As the world observed the International Day of Happiness this week, Bhutan’s positive role in the international community was once again highlighted. It is a matter of national pride that Bhutan provided the idea and inspiration for the day. In a world that is witnessing phenomenal development, but with increasingly fewer signs of happiness, setting a day aside in a year to reflect on happiness should come as a breather.
As the inspiration behind this international day, Bhutan observed the day by declaring it as a public holiday. While it is important that the public offices take a day off on this day, it’s doubtful whether this will help the public pause and reflect on happiness. Few people would care to dedicate ‘a holiday’ to contemplate on a complex subject like happiness. In order to ensure that the happiness day is not treated like the snowfall holiday, the government could organise happiness discourse at different levels. This will mean that a day’s suspension of public service is worth it.
The day will, however, go a long way in putting the basic purpose of life back in focus. GNH, the idea that inspired the happiness day, was conceived on the premise that the ultimate aspiration of all sentient beings is happiness and that material prosperity does not necessarily translate into happiness. How can we reconcile endless economic development and the ultimate human aspiration for wellbeing? When money and riches cannot fill up the void in life that is called discontent, where should one look for the missing link? These and many other questions should form the bases for reflection on the happiness day.
Meanwhile, for Bhutan, it’s the time for soul-searching, rather than celebration. For all our dreams and achievements, we have a long way to go before we can call ourselves a happy society. Happiness perhaps will remain elusive for various reasons. The pursuit of happiness would never be an end in itself as long as we are mere humans. But it is this pursuit that will make all the difference in a world that is consumed by the desire to produce and consume more.
Therefore, one day in a year for happiness.