BBC reports that there’s an Global Happiness Summit underway at the UN — which immediately brings back some fond memories of
Bobby McFerrin a trip to Bhutan a couple of years ago. Bhutan has recently turned its Happiness Index into a kind of an international trademark, and they certainly have taken it to the level of a science, while the Nordic countries have been largely content simply practicing much of the stuff that bhutanese preach.
I must say that initially I was quite skeptical towards the whole thing. Yes, I am all in favour of a view that it is very hard to be happy alone and that having an economic growth as a Holy Grail that is to lift all the boats is a deeply misguided project on several different accounts. Still, Bhutan’s idea of Gross National Happiness struck me as a rather silly proposition, as something that tries to measure what is intrinsically unmeasurable. Happiness, it seemed to me, could not be boiled down to a laundry list of categories that should somehow matter to everyone. To an extent I still feel this way. However, a trip to Bhutan made me reconsider my position in a different way. I still think that there is no universal way to make one happy — in a way it remains a deeply individual thing. At the same time there certainly seem to be ways to make people universally unhappy. It is not that a more egalitarian society would, ipso facto, make everyone bask in the warm glow of communal joy — but it certainly seems true that an unequal one is bound to make a lot of people unhappy. Even those who end up on top seem to be worse off than one would expect, as most of the ways to enjoy your position and wealth are, in a way or another, still communal. If you’re the only person in town who can afford going to a theater or enjoy a dinner out it’s not much use, since there will be no theaters or restaurants around just for you — and even if you’d set them up yourselves, you’d feel rather alone being the only spectator or diner.
And of course, as Aristotle was famous for pointing out, happiness — not like economic growth or lower taxes — is an ultimate goal that we wish for nothing else than itself.
Anyway, this is what Richard Layard has got to say about it: