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The Pursuit of Happiness

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.
(The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America)

Several decades ago the tiny Himalayan nation of Bhutan established what it called a “happiness index,” and then set about to establish guidelines for determining the GNH or Gross National Happiness of the country. The Buddhist nation, which was an absolute monarchy for centuries, held its first democratic elections in 2008, due in large part to the royalist Bhutan Peace and Prosperity Party. The main platform of the party, as is obvious from its name was, well … happiness. One of the new government’s acts was to codify the GNF according to nine components of happiness: psychological well-being, ecology, health, education, culture, living standards, time use, community vitality, and good governance

Most interesting is the way the government of Bhutan seeks to ensure their status as the happiest country on earth. The Western idea of separation of church and state is completely foreign to Bhutan.  The government and clergy work side-by-side from Buddhist monasteries, such as Home and Culture Minister Minjur Dorji’s office in the Tashichho Dzong monastery of the nation’s capital. Strict laws are in place in this “democratic” country to ensure no one becomes unhappy.

Apparently that is accomplished by making sure there is a familiar sameness for all its citizens. There is a national dress code in schools and government buildings. Men wear the gho, a knee-length robe tied at the waist by a cloth belt, and women wear the kira, an ankle-length dress clipped at one shoulder and tied at the waist. Bhutan also mandates a national language, Dzongkha, and has strict architectural standards throughout the country.

Now Brazil, home to the month-long mecca of hedonism, Carnival, has decided it’s time to add happiness to its official national constitution. Mauro Motoryn, the director of the Happier Movement, a private organization backing the legislation, explains: “In Brazil, we’ve had economic growth without the social growth hoped for. With the constitutional amendment, we want to provoke discussion, to seek approval for the creation of conditions in which social rights are upheld.” The bill’s sponsor, Senator Cristovam Buarque, says that adding the “pursuit of happiness” was essential to helping ordinary people begin holding to account a government that has long been accused of not providing basic services to the poor. According to this bill, happiness is defined by guaranteeing certain social rights to all citizens including:

  • Education
  • Health
  • Food
  • Work
  • Housing
  • Leisure
  • Security

The question then comes, “Considering our own Declaration of Independence, what’s wrong with the constitutional statements of Bhutan and Brazil?” The inherent problem with both, and with prevalent misconceptions of the role of government in the United States, is the idea that happiness can be ensured by decree. Our Founding Fathers were not seeking to ensure happiness, but rather to ensure government didn’t get in the way of people exercising their God-given or unalienable right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness for themselves. In other words, our form of government was instituted to ensure government left us alone! In essence, the one thing the Founding Fathers sought to ensure was the last element in Brazil’s new law – security. But their idea of security had nothing to do with how well we ate or how much leisure time we enjoyed.

The pursuit of happiness had more to do with being left alone than given anything. Much of what drove the earlier settlers into the mountains of the eastern United States, then the mid-west, and then the far-west, was a passionate desire to be allowed to pursue happiness on their terms.

So much has changed. While we haven’t instituted national dress codes or passed a “leisure” amendment to the Constitution, Americans more and more don’t look to their government to protect their right to pursue happiness, but rather to ensure they have happiness. Unwittingly, we give away our true freedoms in a quest to have Uncle Sam take care of us.

The irony is, true happiness is lost rather than found

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