In advance of the Fourth of July, a look at public efforts to promote happiness—and what our governments can learn from them
In a few days, we Americans will celebrate the 235th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. We take it for granted now, but that remarkable document was crafted by some enormously eloquent and gifted individuals, chief among them Thomas Jefferson. Nearly all of us are familiar with its language:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Today I am thinking about the concept of "happiness" as an objective of our nation. It is the only right mentioned not once but twice in that powerful opening to the founders' declaration of "the causes which impel[led] them to the separation" of the colonies from the authority of the king of Great Britain.
So the concept of happiness is embedded in our national DNA. But does "the pursuit" of this "inalienable Right" have meaning for public policy? For community? For the environment? For land use and planning?
Public efforts around happiness
The government of the Himalayan country of Bhutan seems to think so. In particular, Bhutan surveys its citizens in nine key aspects of happiness:
- Psychological well-being
- Physical health
- Time or work-life balance
- Social vitality and connection
- Arts and culture
- Environment and nature
- Good government
- Material well-being