Mandatory Happiness

July 30th, 2009 by Kathy McManus

Do humans have a moral and social responsibility to be happy?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

The search for happiness is back.

Increasingly chronicled in newspapers, blogs, books and TV, finding your bliss is finding its way once again into our conversations and our consciousness.

“Many of us think we have a responsibility to be happy, but that’s insane,” says Eric Weiner, author of The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World. “It’s why we Americans suffer from what’s called ‘the unhappiness of not being happy.’”

Nonetheless, mountains have been trekked, wisdom imparted, and the source of our current distress identified: “Greed. Insatiable human greed.”

That anti-Gordon Gekko echo comes from the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, where the Prime Minister has declared greed to be the cause of the current global economic meltdown, and by extension, our great global unhappiness. “We need to think Gross National Happiness,” insists the Prime Minister.

Gross National Happiness is the Bhutanese government’s official alternative to what it considers the “broken promise” of Gross National Product, the traditional measure of a country’s economic output and worth.

Last year, Bhutan adopted a new Constitution centered on Gross National Happiness, with agriculture, transportation, and foreign trade programs now being judged not by their economic benefits, but by the happiness they produce.

“Essentially, I agree with the Bhutanese Prime Minister,” says Eric Weiner, who visited Bhutan to learn about GNH first-hand. “But I think that the source of our unhappiness is expectations. Greed fulfilled makes us ‘happy’ for awhile, but when our expectations are no longer met, we’re miserable.”

That same sentiment was also expressed by the actor Michael J. Fox, who traveled to Bhutan for his TV special, “Adventures of an Incurable Optimist.” Diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease 18 years ago, Fox was intrigued by Gross National Happiness, and offered his own take on personal happiness: “Your happiness grows in direct proportion to your acceptance, and in inverse proportion to your expectations.”

Tell us what you think: Do we have a responsibility to be happy? Is human greed really the cause of our discontent? Would an official policy of Gross National Happiness work in the U.S.?