Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Happy State: finding our way to the pursuit of happiness (part 1 of 3)

Everyone who complains about the happiness movement has one thing in common: the fear of a nanny state. (Well, maybe two, the other that happiness can’t be measured, but that is a complaint out of ignorance, because not only is happiness being measured, there are even guidelines on how to do it. See this short video for a survey of these and other examples.) So let’s focus on the nanny-state complaint.

This usually complaint arises when one first learns what the happiness movement is. It is composed of small group of committed people and organizations working for a new economic paradigm. Our aim is for governments to be guided by wider measures of wellbeing. We aspire for governments to put at the forefront the protection all beings rights to the pursuit of happiness. The singular focus and dependance on monetary measures will end, and the gap between the rich and poor will mend.

Proponents of the happiness movement don’t say that the economy does not matter, just that the economy is not the only thing that matters. And what’s more, that economic equality is at least as important as economic growth. We in the happiness movement say that governments can govern for happiness, and that happiness policies can and will be the work of government. This ideal triggers critics into crying against a nanny state.

First you might ask, what is a nanny state? A nanny state is akin to Big Brother. Imagine that each and every part of your life were controlled by government. The American Heritage Dictionary has a nice definition: “A government perceived as having excessive interest in or control over the welfare of its citizens…”

One of the problems in addressing this accusation is there is not yet an example we can point to that demonstrates a state guided by happiness and wellbeing. Or is there?

Since 2008, the country of Bhutan has been using happiness metrics and passing happiness policies. They call it Gross National Happiness. In the United Kingdom, happiness and wellbeing are measured by the Office of National Statistics and used by various governmental offices (check out Appendix A for examples).

But most importantly, governments all over the world, from neighborhoods to nations, have been passing laws and promulgating policies that protect our rights to pursue happiness for a long time. From this we can draw ideas on what a happy state will look like.

Over the course of the next 12 months, my organization, the Happiness Alliance, is publishing a series of tools that identify exactly what policies a government could pass to protect our inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness.
We call these courageous policies and aim to show as examples where these policies have been promulgated, and give resources explaining their viability for where they have not.

One such policy is Basic Guaranteed Income. It may sound crazy, but it actually was tried to some success inManitoba, Canada, and Canada is scheduled to experiment with it again in Ontario. is an organization that offers research, updates and resources for community organizers and policy makers curious or wanting to be active in this goal.

Another policy that our happiness data indicates would lead to a happy state is a national vacation law. It turns out the United States is the only industrial nation not to have this laws on a national scale. Moreover, we are one of only a handful of that does not promulgate laws for paid family leave.

These are two of many different policies that governments could put in place that would protect our right to pursue happiness. Whether these policies would lead to a nanny state would be dependent on many factors, but we can look to similar past objections to social security, national environmental protection laws and public school, knowing now the great benefit of policies that lead to happiness and that they did not create the Big Brother/nanny state. Homeland security, now that is another story. In the next post in this series, I will write about safety, trust and community; and how policies promoting these relate to happiness.
Reposted from Medium, written by Laura Musikanski

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