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“I asked people to rate their happiness between one and ten—which is inherently absurd—and when they answered, I’d inflate that number of balloons and give them those balloons to hold.”
Jonathan Harris, Author, in TED
Since 1972, the government of the Himalayan nation of Bhutan has measured its prosperity in Gross National Happiness, a Buddhist answer to the Western concept of Gross Domestic Product. In 2007, artist Jonathan Harris travelled to Bhutan to discover how happy its citizens actually were. The result of his trip was the participatory documentary project Balloons of Bhutan, which can be experienced as a mosaic of stories or as data visualization.
Over the course of two weeks, Harris interviewed 117 Bhutanese about happiness, asking questions like What was the happiest day in your life? What makes you happy? How would you rate your happiness on a scale of 1 to 10? Finally, Harris asked his interviewees to make a wish, which he wrote on a balloon. On his final night in Bhutan, Harris re-inflated all the wish balloons and strung them up alongside prayer flags at Dochula, a sacred Buddhist site.