Saturday, December 27, 2008

Happiness via Good Government?

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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men...
Thomas Jefferson. Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence, firmly anchored on humanistic ideals, includes the pursuit of happiness as a basic human right to be secured by government. Great thinkers throughout history have discussed happiness ad infinitum, but an empirical perspective to this most human of pursuits is relatively new. The field of Positive Psychology is dedicated to exactly this: the study of the pursuit of happiness. Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, founders of the field, believe the behavioral sciences

can articulate a vision of the good life that is empirically sound while being
understandable and attractive. They can show what actions lead to well-being, to positive individuals, and to thriving communities.

Seligman says, We've learned in 10 years that happy people are more productive at work, learn more in school, get promoted more, are more creative and are liked more.

A major role of recent governments has been to monitor economic conditions and promote economic growth. But considering the ideals of America's founders, one realizes that this focus is mioptic. Ideally, governments are instituted to enable, among other things, the pursuit of happiness. I suggest our new president add a cabinet post for the fomentation of this most human of pursuits.
Currently, the only government on the planet, taking on the responsibility of fomenting the happiness of its citizens is the Asian nation of Bhutan. Bhutan's national pursuit of happiness is spiritually-based. Although spirituality, or meaning-making, is an important component of happiness, it is not the only one. The pursuit of happiness is complex and multi-faceted. I believe it is the key to human growth and meaning. It should be the topic of discussion in government, schools and anywhere else humans have enough food in their bellies and a mind with which to think.

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