I was intrigued by the topic of happiness in a CNA programme that greeted me in the new year. The topic was whether happiness should be a national goal. The participants and panels were equally enlightened to know that this elusive subject is something that is best not to trifle with. They understood that happiness is a vague concept that meant so many things to so many people that one could hardly put a handle on it. Eventually the discussion tried to narrow down to equate happiness with material well being of the individuals and economic growth at the national level.
The nation’s economic growth as a convenient tool to measure happiness was also disparagingly dismissed as pure nonsense, a tool that could easily be abused by the perpetrators of the notion that economic growth is happiness. There is no doubt that economic well being or materialism could make life very comfortable, and living very convenient. But that’s where it ends.
The role of making people happy must not be passed to the hands of the govt. It is dangerous and can be exploited for all the wrong reasons. It is not that the govt does not know what happiness is, it is a very subjective thing and no one is wiser. What is sad is for a govt to assume this role that it knows better, it knows how to make people happy, and channel resources towards this goal like asset enhancement. One of the panellists said, it is ridiculous and bad for the govt to take money from the people through taxes and to pass back the money to the people and tell them it will make them happy. It is best the people keep their own money and decide what they want to do with their money to make themselves happy. Immediately the national ponzi scheme came to mind.
The concept of happiness is not directly related to material well being. Nevertheless, economic well being is something that the people want. This is about raising the quality of life of the people in material comfort. Many could be contented to be living well. Whether they are happy or unhappy is a totally different issue that only an individual will know. Only an individual could satisfy his own curiosity and idiosyncrasy of what he can be happy or what can make him happy. Basically the panellist disagreed with a role for the govt in making the people happy. But when the voting was called, 70% of the votes wanted happiness to be a national goal. Do they mean that they want the govt, who probably has as vague an idea as them on what is happiness, to mess around with their happiness or to tell them how to be happy or what makes them happy?
It is a strange conclusion to an interesting discussion. May 2013 be a happy new year for all of you, if you know what can make you happy. Maybe it is easier to know what will make you unhappy and you can start from that premise to stay happy.