A Splendid Isolation: Lessons on Happiness from the Kingdom of Bhutan

A Splendid Isolation: Lessons on Happiness from the Kingdom of Bhutan cover imageWhat does Bhutan understand about happiness that the rest of the world does not? Award-winning journalist and author Madeline Drexler recently traveled to this Himalayan nation to discover how the audacious policy known as Gross National Happiness plays out in a fast-changing society where Buddhism is deeply rooted—but where the temptations and collateral damage of materialism are rising. Her reported essay blends lyrical travelogue, cultural history, personal insights, and provocative conversations with top policymakers, activists, bloggers, writers, artists, scholars, religious leaders, students, and ordinary citizens in many walks of life. This book is sure to fascinate readers interested in travel, Buddhism, progressive politics, and especially the study and practice of happiness.

A Splendid Isolation was a Finalist in the 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

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Praise for A Splendid Isolation: Lessons on Happiness from the Kingdom of Bhutan

Beautiful, Evocative Reporting About a Breathtaking Place and a Remote State of Mind

“When public health journalist Madeline Drexler traveled to Bhutan—the model for the West’s imaginary “Shangri-La”—it was to investigate one of life’s central questions: What is happiness, and where is it to be found? In a remote country that’s in the midst of transforming from an untouched Buddhist kingdom into a modern-day democracy, Drexler investigates a way of life and a social policy that few of us will ever see. Can a country be dedicated to “Gross National Happiness”? Is happiness to be find in our bonds to one another, in meditation, in material well-being, or in some combination thereof? What kind of nation, situated at the gorgeous and remote roof of the world, does it take to put such a policy in its constitution? Drexler’s unique reported essay is rivetingly beautiful, ranging marvelously across disciplines and human beings, and was incredibly hard to put down. Read it now.”

— E.J. Graff, February 10, 2014

Splendid, Deep Storytelling on an Absorbing Subject

“In taking us along in the ways that Madeline Drexler does—by inviting us into the minds of her characters and sharing the concepts that have driven this country’s movement toward embracing happiness as a societal goal—she offers a penetrating dive into key questions revolving around happiness. Her essay takes place in Bhutan, but in her quest to understand Gross National Happiness in ways I’ve never heard any Westerner do before, she’s given me ways to pose similar questions about happiness in my own life and in society. By traveling to this distant place and evocatively bringing this aspect of its culture to life, she’s given me a rare opportunity to trace the thinking of people who are pondering what constitutes happiness for individuals and for society. Reading “A Splendid Isolation” transports me to Bhutan, but then pushes me to explore these same questions closer to home.”

— Melissa Ludtke, February 7, 2014

Tradition in Progress

“This beautifully written book opens up a remote and unfamiliar country in which Buddhism is ingrained in the fabric of social and political life. Drexler provides an introduction to Buddhism along with Bhutan, and also to the country’s role on the world stage of progressive politics. However, the story of contemporary Bhutan should appeal to readers of any political or religious persuasion, since the author’s love of the country does not preclude a deeply probing analysis of it. She is undaunted in reporting the conflicts and inconsistencies within Bhutan’s concept of “happiness” and of itself. This account also serves as a case study of the effect of modernization on the social structures that originally sustained tradition in any number of countries now undergoing development. As Bhutan provides a particularly moving example of precious traditional values in action and peril, I look forward to a sequel, some 5 or 10 years hence, to tell us how the soul of the nation has fared in opening to the rest of the world.”

— Robert G. Simon, February 16, 2014


“This book is a fascinating look into a little-known part of the world and spectacularly well written. It could have been a West-bashing, pro-GNH PR piece. Alternatively, it could have been a GNH tear-down. Instead, it is multifaceted, subtle, and designed to make us think. Highly recommended.”

— Amazon Customer, March 25, 2014

Fascinating Book, Unexpected Soul-Searching Topics

“The ideas, ideals, morals, opinions and attitudes explored in this book are wonderfully engaging on multiple levels. Gross National Happiness is such an unusual and different concept compared to the USA culture of consumerism that this idea is striking, and humbling. The idea that it is wrong to take honey away from the bees that produced it at first struck me as funny, and then the deep insight and wisdom of this concept started to sink in, and I was once again humbled by the pure simplicity of the truth of this belief. All and all, this was a really fun book to read, and it had totally unexpected concepts that I hope to apply to my life.”

— pin88goi, February 24, 2014

Insider Outsider

“The story unfolds as both journalism and journey, and the author’s ability to see from so many points of view, to love, to admire, to question and to criticize, to hold happiness vs. economic performance up to the light, is the magic of a beautiful literary product.”

— Rick Fleeter (Charlestown, RI and Rome, Italy), February 6, 2014

A Splendid Glimpse at a Unique and Fascinating Culture

“Madeline Drexler’s incisive journalistic skills and insights into the heart of the Buddha’s path are combined to provide a vivid picture of a people poised on the brink of change.”

— Scott H. Spencer, February 15, 2014