Get Happy!

Original Article

Is there no end to the technocratic impulse? Just when you thought that our government overlords couldn’t find any new way to intrude into our lives, they hatch a plan to multiply bureaucrats. Now cooking on the Obama stove: criteria to measure our “happiness.”

Happiness? What business is that of the government’s? None. But when has that stopped the Obama administration? The Washington Post reported that Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services is funding a gaggle of “experts” to “define reliable measures of ‘subjective well-being.’ ” Not coincidentally, one of the leaders of this field is Obama’s chief economic adviser, Alan Krueger. Economic adviser today, but tomorrow? Happiness Czar!

Defining measures of subjective well-being is only the first step. The Post reports, “If successful, these could become official statistics.” Once the government decides what makes us happy and begins to collect data and publish statistics about how we are doing happiness-wise as a society, the inevitable next step will be to uncover a crisis, which new policies and bureaucracies will be required to cure.

Think of the opportunities for demagoguing. Some sectors of our society will undoubtedly be determined to have less happiness than other sectors. Let’s call it “happiness inequality.” That will require the government to pass laws and promulgate regulations to close the “happiness gap.” Once we head down that road, the buttinsky possibilities become endless. Think Independent Happiness Advisory Board.

The “happiness entitlement” meme has already been accepted in very high places. David Cameron, conservative prime minister of the United Kingdom, is already pushing for his government to track the happiness of British citizens. As the Guardian reported, people in the U.K. will soon be “regularly polled on their subjective well-being, which includes a gauge of happiness” and also “how well they are achieving their ‘life goals.’ ” And lest we doubt that ideological values will drive the happiness entitlement society, one of the measurements for assessing “the psychological and physical well-being of people around the U.K.” will be “how much recycling gets done.” France and Canada have similar projects afoot.

Bhutan, of all places, leads the emerging international happiness drive. A few years ago, the country established a Gross National Happiness Campaign that is empowered to veto proposed laws it deems would impede happiness. Already, the commission has supported restricting tourism to facilitate “the promotion and preservation of [Bhutanese] cultural values.” The smiley-face bureaucrats also supported using happiness as a reason to ban the sale of cigarettes.

Considering the power that could accrue to such a commission, we should not be surprised that the United Nations has jumped into the happiness game. Recently, the General Assembly unanimously passed Resolution 65/309—“Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development”—which states that the “pursuit of happiness” is a “fundamental human goal.”

Sounds like the Declaration of Independence, except for a crucial difference. The declaration proclaims that we have an inalienable right as individuals to pursue happiness. It does not say we have a right to be happy. Nor does it presume that it is the government’s job to make us happy. Rather, the declaration affirms the right of people to establish a government that is sufficiently limited in power to leave us room for the pursuit according to our own unique circumstances and desires.

The U.N., however, is not about limited power. Indeed, as conceived by the technocratic community, the pursuit of happiness would take us in exactly the opposite direction from the American model. Rather than limiting government, the U.N. would use happiness as a justification for increasing the power of lawmakers and regulators to thwart prosperity—think global warming—and constrain personal freedom.

Thus, Resolution 65/309 claims that measuring “the gross domestic product .  .  . does not adequately reflect the happiness and well-being of people in a country,” and the international community and national governments should be “conscious” of “the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and well-being of all peoples.” Yikes!

Ironically, a recent study conducted by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, shows what it takes for us to be happy—and it ain’t big government. According to an account in the San Francisco Chronicle, it takes three things: “feeling grateful for the good things in your life, taking time with your family, and using every opportunity you can to help others.” But then, you don’t need to be a Berkeley scientist or government bureaucrat to know that.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.