Writer’s Block: International Happiness Day
March 20 was the first International Day of Happiness as declared by the United Nations. The day is to recognize that happiness is a fundamental human goal and calls upon countries to approach public policies in ways that improve the well-being of all peoples. Bhutan, a tiny kingdom in the Himalayas, has a Gross National Happiness Index as an indicator to measure its people’s welfare and development rather than the country’s economic growth or GDP.
The day is an acknowledgement that human happiness does not solely rest on material pursuit but also comprises of other things such as spiritual and mental health, the family and community, as well as culture and traditions. In other words, there are many factors that contribute to a person’s happiness, and it is important for a healthy society to pay attention to them as a whole. For instance, it is doubtful that one can be happy despite having a steady job, a roof over one’s head and a fully-stocked cupboard, if one has a dysfunctional family, no friends and a lack of purpose in life.
Money is important to happiness of course, especially when you don’t have any, but studies have shown that after attaining a certain level of income, material comfort is no longer the main key to happiness. With each rung climbed in the economic ladder, we find our definition of happiness shifting and also our potential for unhappiness growing, as possessing more and being more important, more successful, more powerful, more this and more that, become the goal in a pursuit that becomes increasingly futile and impossible to achieve.
What is happiness therefore, other than a subjective experience. A continuously moving target in our never-ending desire whose cure is in its own fulfillment. There’s nothing like getting what we want in order to create a new cycle of unhappiness. The unsuccessful person wants to be successful, the successful person wants to be liked, the popular person wants to be smarter, the talented person wishes to be better looking. You can have it all, and still be unhappy for absolutely no reason.
Happiness, unlike the dream job we’ve finally landed and the fancy car that turns everyone’s head, is a fleeting idea. We may have found God, but we will never be rid of our immense capacity to feel miserable. I’m sure there are many Bhutanese who experience their bouts of unhappiness for one reason or another.
Others argue that what really makes one happy is being able to help other people, to practice altruism, show compassion and make our life useful to others. To be sure, these are things that make us feel good and necessary to keep the fabric of our society together. It does make us happy to help, but it is unlikely that we wish the pursuit of our happiness to depend on the misfortunes of others.
Not only that, there is often a gap between our cliche and collective idea of happiness — having a good job, a healthy body, a prosperous life, a stable and loving family, and that universally coveted balanced life of mind, body and spiritual harmony — and the things that we actually do that make us truly happy.
For instance, a fulfilling relationship is a nice idea, and yet communing with one’s smart phone or electronic gadget these days can be a lot more fun and rewarding. And so it is with one’s life choices. Even as good health is key to our happiness, in that being sick makes us feel miserable, for many of us our sense of joy comes from smoking that cigarette, opting for that fun food and guzzling down all that sugar. And as to our desire for world peace, harmony and compassion, sometimes nothing gives us greater happiness than to see others fail, nor more satisfied than to see revenge served.
Our happiness too, can come from the quirkiest of sources. Perhaps when looking at a painting, while listening to a soppy song, or feeling the gentle morning sun on one’s face. As for me, nothing gives me the feeling of happiness more than to be able to lounge around in my old T-shirt all day, unshowered and binging on packets of Cheezles.
Desi Anwar is a senior anchor at Metro TV and can be reached at desianwar.com or dailyavocado.net.