Lessons from Bhutan: The Cow, the Dog, and the Goat

A joke from Bhutan illustrates universal life lessons for finding happiness.

Bhutan, a small Buddhist kingdom nestled between China and India, inadvertently started the global happiness movement in 2011. That year, they introduced a resolution to the United Nations advocating that development in emerging countries should be guided by happiness not accumulation of wealth. Happiness is a way of life that permeates every thought, communication, and action for the Bhutanese people. Like many cultures, embedded in their myths, stories, and jokes are lessons on life and being. The following is a quintessential Bhutanese joke, that holds universal lessons for us all.

A cow, a dog, and a goat want to go to the annual festival in Thimpu, the capital city. They jump in a cab and soon arrive at the festival grounds. The fare is 150 ngultrums. The cow has exact change and pays his 50 nu. The dog only has a 100 nu note, so he waits for change. The goat has no money and is embarrassed that he can’t pay his share, so he runs away. The taxi driver, having received his full fare, drives away.

This explains why cows will stand in the middle of the road and block traffic: they have paid their dues. It explains why dogs run after cars: they are chasing what they are still owed. It explains why goats run away when they see a car: they are ashamed.

Where are you like the cow, taking a stand because you have paid your dues? Do you claim what is yours to claim? Do you understand that owning a skill, experience, or accomplishment is not bragging? Are there places where you fail to stand your ground? If so, what is holding you back? Do you fear standing out, appearing egotistical, or making others feel badly? Are there voices—perhaps a parent or a teacher—that prevent you from taking your hard-earned stand? What would it take to turn down the volume of the negative voices?

Where are you like the dog, chasing after what is owed you? How much time have you wasted pursuing a justice that you will never find? Where do you hold a grudge? Why do you need to be right? Where do you strive for acknowledgement that never arrives, and never will? Why do you need to be recognized? Are you able to let go for the sake of moving forward into a positive future, rather than staying stuck in the past?

And, where are you like the goat? Where have you let your integrity fray? Where have you let others down, on purpose or unwittingly? What are you ashamed of, guilty about, or embarrassed by? Does fear prevent you from living fully? Can you ask for forgiveness or make amends, giving yourself the gift of peace of mind?

Many cultures use jokes and stories to teach cultural mores and values. Looking at the cow, the dog, and the goat, what lessons do you take away? What actions do you need or want to take to create a life of freedom and ease? Can you do it alone, or do you need support? Who can you ask? Why not start today? You deserve happiness!

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