07 December 2006

Secretary of Happiness

I have decided upon my criteria for the 2008 election: vote for the candidate who takes seriously our declaration of independence and, if elected, creates a new cabinet position: the secretary of happiness.

Since about 1950, income has more than doubled in this country and yet levels of happiness have not budged. This is not a strictly American issue; it is true of Europe and Canada as well. Oddly, no politician seem the least interested in this critical issue that, one might argue, is the only one that makes progress on any other issue meaningful.

The secretary of happiness (The official pursuer of happiness?) would be tasked with the most marvelously interesting responsibility - seeking to increase the level of happiness of the nation's population. Probably one of the first policies would be to institute classes on happiness as a fundamental part of education. [Note the psychology of happiness link to the right of this blog as a great example of what that might look like at the university level.] There is a great deal that we know about happiness but too much of it is stuffed into esoteric journals read by crowds of only five or six. It is difficult to think of a more important measure of welfare than the level of happiness, yet our society doesn't even make an attempt to measure it they way we do daily fluctuations in the stock market or quarterly movement of GDP.

We could have a healthy debate about whether the secretary of happiness ought to be a comedian like Robin Williams or a psychologist who has dedicated his life to studying happiness like Martin Seligman or Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi. But surely, no one could debate the need for such a position, could they?

So, that is my criteria for judging a presidential candidate. Any candidate who wants my vote will have to take happiness seriously as a national goal. It has been 230 years since Jefferson and his peers dared to found a country on the notion that every individual has the right to pursue happiness. There is no need to delay any more in taking this seriously.


Anonymous said...

Great idea! I nominate Steve Martin first. Can't you just see him in the picture of the cabinet, arrow through his head?

Thomas LB said...

Wow, that could change everything- instead of invading Iran, we could just send them a few clowns!

Seriously, though, I'm trying to think of recent politicians and prominent businessmen who really seem happy to be alive. It's not a very long list.

Dave said...

I'm intrigued by your reference to Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence. Without research, I have a vague sense that when he talked about the right "to pursue happiness" he was thinking structurally. What institutions and rules would create a level playing field that would allow and protect pursuit?

Your responsive comment brings to mind Malcom Forbes and more recently Warren Buffet. I'd love to have been sitting out of sight and listening when Buffet was talking to Bill Gates about giving away their billions. Both seem to have gotten "religion," attempting to share their wealth and maybe create some happiness.

Ron said...

Steve Martin would be ideal. He can look so pompous when he needs to - he'd be perfect for a political position.

Thomas - happiness is elusive. Odd, the hard products (like cars and potato chips) are now easy to get and the soft products (like happiness) are at least as hard to get as ever.

Dave - the question about institutions and rule to make the pursuit of happiness more assured is fascinating. I seriously do wonder what would happen if we were to raise this to the level of national issue and suppose that these would be exactly the kinds of issues that emerged.

Vladimir Dzhuvinov said...

Then what, blame the government when we feel unhappy? ;)

This would only reinforce the notion that somebody else, but not us, is responsible for our happiness!