Considering how we spend our entire lives in the dogged pursuit of happiness, how come the polities of nations have neglected this aspect? This is as startling as, perhaps, the full stop after the heading of this piece. The delight that an exclamation can express is painfully missing, perhaps leading many of you to think that an error or a typo has occurred.
The omission, of course, is deliberate. Whether the point has been driven home will have to be decided by the reader.
So, why do we keep dragging in the issues of dregs? Dregs here refer to all that signify the absence of happiness, viz. poverty, hunger, unemployment, disease, displacement and corruption. Is it because we are comfortable talking and acting in terms of tangibles – for example, poverty and money, hunger and food, disease and medicine, and so on. All these demand a solution in terms of something that can be procured and change hands, pass through hierarchical vacuity, and justify a relationship between the giver and the taker, perhaps forever binding them in the relationship.
How can one frame a national policy on happiness? Can we measure the success of a happiness policy? What should be the parameters? How should the degrees of happiness be established, so that subsidised doses of
happiness can be administered according to an individual’s cup of woes? And who shall be happiness in-charge? How can we make sure that there is transparency, equity and fairness in the system?
Mindboggling questions in a way, but perhaps, when all else seem to have run into a tight corner, there is nothing to lose by turning conventional thinking on its head.
Is it sane to suggest that all policies henceforth will have happiness as the central defining criterion?
The people of Bhutan would say it is not only sane, but the only way. They would challenge you to replace ‘gross national product’ with ‘gross national happiness’. Back in 1972, their king Jigme Wangchuck, then a 16-year-old, had set the course when he outlined ‘happiness’ as the de rigeur state goal. It is a legacy of that policy that the people of Bhutan have preserved its core and over time, fine-tuned its nuances. They made efforts to figure out how to measure happiness, how to enhance it through government and social policies, and how to educate themselves about the behaviours that lead to happiness.
While asserting that economic growth does not necessarily lead to contentment, Wangchuck’s government has focused on four aspects of gross national happiness: economic self-reliance, a pristine environment, the promotion of culture, and good governance in the form of a democracy. The country requires that at least 60 per cent of its lands remain forested, and welcomes a limited stream of wealthy tourists. Undoubtedly, the concept typifies an innovative way to look at modern socioeconomic development. It is worth knowing that while household incomes in Bhutan remain among the world’s lowest, life expectancy increased to 66 years, which is an increase of 19 years recorded in the period from 1984 to 1998.
The true worth of Bhutan’s example, which is still a far-from-accomplished model and is meant to serve mainly as a guiding star, is that it has galvanised far broader discussions of national well-being.
Around the world, a growing number of economists, social scientists, policy gurus, corporate leaders and government officials are trying to develop measurements that take into account not just the movement of money but also non-economic factors including access to healthcare, harmony with natural resources, free time with family, gender equity, poverty reduction and equal opportunities at work. Sure, the balance of priority will vary according to a country’s position in the overall development chart. But that does not mean that being poor and being happy are mutually exclusive in existential terms.
One may yet counter all of the above in the context of a poor country, arguing that for a country struggling on the behalf of its poor denizens to meet their daily food requirements, ideas of happiness are a blasphemy that happiness is a superficial pursuit. To such argument, it would be best to leave a thought behind: A government that sincerely seeks out a happy life for the country’s citizens will consciously and determinedly implement policies that will bring about the desired state, and in fact, the measurement of happiness can itself become the measurement of success of the government’s policies. What is the point of all sorts of grants, subsidies and rights, if not the happiness of the beneficiaries?
Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence states: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
So, is your government making you happier?