On the surface, Lisa Napoli’s mid-life crisis sounds familiar. In her early 40s, single, childless and with one failed marriage under her belt, not even her successful public radio career could shake that hollow feeling: “I was tired of observing life from a distance, of synthesizing and distilling data with little time to process its meaning.”
But instead of just enrolling in yoga or a positive-thinking class (although she did the latter, too), Napoli fled her Los Angeles home for Bhutan, a tiny kingdom nestled in the Himalayas between India and China. Officially she was there to advise a struggling new radio station. Unofficially, she was there to learn from the only nation that cares so much for the emotional well-being of its people that it measures prosperity by its Gross National Happiness rather than its Gross Domestic Product.
At first, Napoli’s journey is charmingly kooky. The youth-based Kuzoo FM has the engaging can-do spirit of the underdog fighting the odds: the DJs make do with lacklustre equipment and Napoli needs to post signs reminding them to make sure the mikes are actually on during transmission. Outside the studio, the walls of houses are painted with giant phalluses, a roundabout way to ward off material jealousy through shaming viewers. Monks offer to perform a ritual chanting to “cleanse” Napoli of her obstacles.
Bhutan is not all bliss, however. The standard of living for the mostly rural population is distressingly low. And Napoli feels like a “hypocrite” for instructing the Bhutanese in Western media practices she worries are spreading the very culture of mindless consumption that drove her there in the first place.
Still, if Napoli can’t ever reconcile the two hemispheres, she realizes she may not have to. Life is complicated everywhere, and true happiness comes from within, no matter what country you’re in.