The Joy Guide from the Happiest Poor People in the World

The Joy Guide from the Happiest Poor People in the World - Dr. Ivy Ge [The Art of Good Enough]
Nepalis are the happiest people in South Asia, despite a high unemployment rate, poor healthcare, and education. Here is what they say about happiness...

Why Are Nepalis So Happy?


Nepal is a South Asian country with a high unemployment rate, poor health care, and education. Yet the World Happiness Report 2021 ranked Nepal as the happiest country in South Asia.

What makes these poor people so happy?

On March 20, 2015, the International Day of Happiness, NPR interviewed a few Nepalis about the meaning of happiness.

“Sabin Munikar, 28, a self-taught violinist and pianist, is a teacher at the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory. He is the founder of the Kathmandu Youth Orchestra, which plays traditional Nepali music… Newly married, he hopes to do graduate studies in music in the U.S.”

“‘For me, happiness means being completely myself wherever I am … I will be truly happy only when I choose my own destiny.’”

Tara Devi is a farmer in Khokana, one of the oldest Newar towns in the Kathmandu Valley… Tara has never attended school and can speak only Newar, a Tibeto-Burmese language, and a smattering of Hindi she has learned from Bollywood movies. She loves to laugh.

“‘Working is my happiness. I go to my fields every day. We grow everything we eat: garlic, rice, vegetables… I love Bollywood movies. But the government — they cut the electricity all the time, and it is hard to watch the movies… Where is the development the government promises? That makes me sad. But I do not like to be sad. It is better to be happy.’”

Woeser Choeden, 90, has no formal education. In 1960, she fled Tibet to Nepal on foot with her two oldest daughters. Two yaks carried the family food, as well as her two youngest daughters. She has 20 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren.”

“‘Happiness for me is about contentment, not about extremes of happiness or sadness. I tell my children to embrace the suffering and hardship that comes through hard work. Only then can one truly understand happiness.’”


The Joy Guide from the Happiest Poor People in the World - Dr. Ivy Ge [The Art of Good Enough]




Happiness is a spiritual practice.


According to a 2020 article published in the Journal of Nepal Medical Association, spiritualism contributes much to their mental health. As a predominantly Hindu country, Nepal practices “many behaviors related to spiritualism… such as early morning rise, praying, going on pilgrimage, intermittent fasting, listening to music and bhajan (devotional songs), and meditation can promote solace and mental health through peace and developing hope and positive thinking.

Morning light is a powerful cue for shortening the circadian cycle of the biological clock, which is naturally longer than 24 h in most humans. Also, light exposure in the morning is effective for patients with depression and seasonal affective disorder. 

Waking up early morning increases the academic performance of the students. Many studies explain the positive effects of fasting on promoting mental health. It is reported that fasting improves self-esteem to a greater extent, which [helps] maintaining a positive mental status.

Fasting also has shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and improve social functioning. Listening to bhajan and yoga music improves attention and concentration as a part of mental well-being.

Meditation leads to the metamorphosis of brain structure to emit positive emotions. The EEG records indicate that meditation can even tame the amygdala enabling the individual to be less shocked, flustered, or angry. Transcendental meditation promotes increasing degrees of orderliness, integration, and coherence in the brain leading to a unique style of brain functioning.

In a related study involving EEG, posterior high amplitude alpha was identified in people with a strong personal spirituality who have recovered from depression. People tendencies such as a feeling of happiness, joyousness, and hope for the future are related to spirituality.”

A commentary on the Lancet Psychiatry states that “although  it  remains  controversial  as  to  whether spiritual components of Alcoholics Anonymous and   other   12-step   approaches   are   intrinsic   to   their   efficacy,  they  are  the  most  common  treatment  pathway  for  drug  and  alcohol  problems,  and  are  associated  with  more   than   half   (54·3%)   of   all   reported   recoveries.”

Happiness isn’t about having everything you want, but everything you need


Happiness is a glass half full.


Days after the ranking announcement of the World Happiness Report in 2021, Nepal Times counted their reasons for happiness in an article titled Happy-Go-Lucky Nepal:

🙂 When Nepalis see that their glass is half-full, they don’t wallow in sorrow. They just toss it down neat.

🙂 Nepal has the highest per capita holidays in the calendar of any country in the world. We celebrate five new year days, and being a secular republic, there are holy days for every major religion, and this Sunday is Holi Day. With government offices closed so often, there is less chance of being given the run-around at the Land Transport Office, which adds to our sense of contentment.

🙂 Let’s face it, we’d be really miserable if we stopped being miserable. Thank goodness we have an incompetent government, intermittent electricity, and unbreathable air. So what if our roads have potholes, they’re paved with good intentions.

🙂 We never do today what can be done the day after tomorrow. 

🙂 Nepalis always see a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it is a locomotive headed our way.


As the wise Nepali great grandmother Woeser Choeden said, happiness is contentment. It’s about finding peace in storms, both external and internal, knowing always what is the most important to us, and the ways we carry that importance with us.

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Dr. Ivy Ge

Doctor of Pharmacy, author of The Art of Good Enough. She writes to inspire women to design their own fate. Her writings and interviews have been featured on MSNBC, Thrive Global, Working Mother magazine, Parentology, and The Times of India.

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