What makes people happy and the role of government in fostering happiness

The Politics of Happiness written by former Harvard president Derek Bok explores the research on happiness over 35 years in United States and examines how governments could use happiness research in public policy. In the introduction of the book, the author highlights about Gross National Happiness promulgated by His Majesty the Fourth King and Bhutan’s pioneering initiative in officially adopting happiness as the principal goal.

The author describes the key findings of happiness research. Among others, the research findings show that experiences and conditions that Americans associate with happiness are: strong marriage, close friendships, acts of charity and community service, feelings of good health, religious faith, and a stable democracy with a responsive, effective and accountable government. It will be interesting to compare these findings with GNH research/surveys conducted by Centre for Bhutan Studies.

He suggests that government officials could draw upon the new research on happiness to rethink their priorities to promote well-being.

In our own policy arena, are we using happiness research to inform public policy? I wonder whether the GNH research/surveys ever come to the attention of our legislators and policy makers.

More importantly, how effective are our public policy institutions and the policies in creating conditions for happiness and well being of its citizens? Not impressive, going by the media reports in the recent years on the growing incidences of suicides, murders and thefts, youth unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, and corruption in the country. These could be the symptoms or sources of unhappiness that are plaguing our society that warrant serious attention. In this respect, it is worth reflecting on how could researchers, legislators and policy makers rethink and reorient policies and programmes to create conditions and influence behavioral changes to redirect our path to the noble goal of Gross National Happiness as envisioned by His Majesty the Fourth King. These are few thoughts on the complex topic of happiness that crossed my mind reading this book.

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August 30th, 2015 by