“Happiness”, or at least the discussion of it, is suddenly all around us. At the global, macro level, many countries – led by the pioneering efforts of the tiny mountain kingdom of Bhutan – are now seeking to measure the “happiness’ of their people rather than their per capita Gross National Income as a measure of how well they are doing.
At the individual level, there are happiness gurus from Oprah to Deepak Chopra that will convince you that it is within your reach to achieve a state of complete happiness if you would just follow their instructions.
What is going on, and are we Guyanese missing out something? There was a time – for most of mankind’s history, as a matter of fact – when the goal of man’s existence was simply to live a virtuous life.
The very practice of being kind, considerate, compassionate, forgiving etc. would ensure that the individual was a “good” person. As to whether the “good” person was a “happy” person in the modern sense of the word, is open to question. This sort of happiness was seen as located outside of the individual in a transcendent experience that was described in various ways: God or Nirvana etc.
The good person was certainly a satisfied person – and in that sense we can get a glimmer of what today we call “happiness”. But the shift to the notion that by our own efforts we can exist without any unhappiness was certainly not their understanding.
It was accepted that there were events that were outside one’s control that could always interject itself into our lives and lead to unhappiness. Whether these were attributed to the activities of the “Gods” or of natural phenomena, it was just the way “life was”. “Happiness” for them would allow for a certain amount of “unhappiness”.
Matters changed after the “Enlightenment”. This revolution in 18th century European thinking posited that with reason, mankind could control all forces that impact on him and in that way, direct matters that he could have perfect happiness all the time. Or at least he could if he tried hard enough.
The random interventions dubbed by our ancestors as “fate’ or the “gods” could now be controlled by human agency. The US Constitution of 1787 was the first statement that “the pursuit of happiness” was a national task. It might not have been an accident that Thomas Jefferson, substituted “happiness” for “property” in the trinity of “life, liberty and property” and “happiness” for Americans – and eventually for much of the present world is now identified with “property.
In the new dispensation, unhappiness was seen as a disease that could be eliminated through diligent effort like say, smallpox. Some ideologues took this idea to its logical conclusion and even constructed authoritarian states that would “guarantee” happiness.
But in the 200 years or so that America has led us into this brave new world of the pursuit of happiness through the acquisition of property, a funny thing has occurred. In the new metric of measuring happiness, the so-called ‘developed, prosperous, modern countries” – measuring “development” by material criteria – have been coming in very low on the rankings. In fact, last year world champion in happiness, Bangladesh is among the “poorest”.
It would seem that man is not happy with “bread” alone. After satisfying the basic needs, following Maslow, either has the luxury of worrying about vague, subjective states like happiness and unhappiness or becomes “unhappy” in an existential sense.
As we Guyanese buckle down to craft new political relations that are to run our ship of state in the year ahead, it might be necessary for us to have some discussion about what exactly is this state supposed to deliver.
We would hazard a guess that as much as we would like to have “economic growth” continue, we would place securing better relations between our peoples ahead of that goal. And the irony is that by focusing on the latter we might just improve the former. Social capital might just be another name for collective happiness.
Jan 20, 2020Former Club Captain, the veteran Patrick Prashad, pulled all the stops to edge out LGC President Aleem Hussain in their Championship (0-9) Flight, finishing tied in an exciting day of golf under fine...
Editor’s Note, If your sent letter was not published and you felt its contents were valid and devoid of libel or personal attacks, please contact us by phone or email.
Feel free to send us your comments and/or criticisms.
Contact: 624-6456; 225-8452; 225-8458; 225-8463; 225-8465; 225-8473 or 225-8491.
Or by Email: [email protected] / [email protected]