International Happiness day

Happiness as a Main Objective of Human Rights

Today marks International Happiness Day. It is perhaps peculiar to call for the celebration of this day in light of ongoing political crises and humanitarian catastrophes around the world. However, I believe that it is rather in situations like this that one needs to recollect the need to strive for a principal objective of all those working for the peace, security, justice and equality across the globe: happiness based upon individual and collective well-being.

Two years ago the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the 20th of March as the day to celebrate International Happiness, emphasizing “the pursuit of happiness as a fundamental human goal”. The General Assembly called for a more inclusive, equitable, and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness, and the well-being of all peoples.

Even though most people may link “happiness” to socio-economic human rights, in factall human rights – including civil and political − are advanced in view of promoting and respecting the dignity of every human being, and in sum, they result in the happiness of all. Being happy is feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.

The question then arises as to what one needs in order to achieve happiness. Happiness can reflect an individual and collective sensation. Individual happiness is also linked to a personal standard which one aims to achieve.

For each individual, this standard may change with time depending on the situation in which they find themselves at any point in time. For instance, whilst people in a war zone may be profoundly overjoyed with a cease-fire, so may poor and impoverished people living in “peaceful conditions” only find happiness when they attain food security and shelter. Happiness for others is linked to attaining perfection in the achievement of career ambitions. The subjective nature of happiness perhaps connotes that such a state of being can never be attained for all. At the same time, the subjective nature of happiness serves as an incentive to continuously promote – the ever evolving concept of − human rights values.

Perhaps lessons could be adopted from countries which consciously work towards the happiness of their citizens. Since its inception, the Legatum Prosperity Index (LPI) has ranked Norway as the most prosperous country in the world. This can especially be attributed to the economic situation in the country and its generous social welfare system.

The LPI rating − which is used as a resource by Forbes among others − is based on 8 domains, which do not include only economic factors, but also take into account entrepreneurship & opportunity, governance, health and social capital. Moreover, the situation in Bhutan is particularly interesting. Here promoting Gross National Happiness(GNH) is a national ambition. In its GNH Index, Bhutan incorporates in a multidimensional concept of collective happiness the subjective well-being of individuals. In developing the yearly GNH Index, 9 different domains are considered: psychological wellbeing, time use, community vitality, cultural diversity, ecological resilience, living standard, health education and good governance. Government policies are geared towards increasing the level of happiness of citizens in the country.

As stated in the Secretary-General’s Message for today, “many countries are going beyond the rhetoric of quality of life to incorporate practical measures to promote these concepts in their legislation and policy-making. These good practices can inspire other countries so that measuring and accounting for broader well-being, and not simply national income, becomes a universal practice.”

Happiness, as a principal goal, should not just be left to individual countries. Through bilateral and multilateral partnerships, countries which are advanced in this pursuit should assist less-endowed nations in developing and executing strategies aimed at promoting individual and national happiness. This can be done through existing cooperation agreements and actions aimed at eradicating poverty, promoting social inclusion and decent livelihoods, environmental security and building institutions for good governance.

Indeed happiness for all is a utopian ambition, but yet worth pursuing. As Oscar Wilde said, in the Soul of Man, “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.”

Ending on a less serious note:

When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was THE key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life” ~ John Lennon

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