Is politics about happiness?

By Charles Kershaw

It might feel like a cruel twist of irony, that just as everything falls apart, the International Day of Happiness has fallen upon us once again.

Despite the fact that it is the primary goal for many of us in our lives, the quest for happiness can seem difficult, amid the distractions and daily toils that we all face. Politics seems to be no help in this; we all know how awkward things can get at the dinner table when the subject is brought up, and political views often seem to divide us and cause more unhappiness than they bring us together to enjoy our lives.

So is politics on the whole, at least within our system, about or even concerned with our happiness? That is a hard question to answer. Under capitalism, the goal is the acquisition of profit, which could be argued to be the best system to bring about the greatest amount of happiness— more money equals more access to resources that bring you happiness, whether that be simple necessities such as rent and food, or luxuries like fast cars and second homes.

Should an increase in the collective happiness of the general population be the end goal of politics? I would argue that it should. it’s time to take a leaf out of the books of Bhutan and the Nordic countries, Bhutan having the primary goal of its domestic policy the increase in their “Gross National Happiness” and the Nordic countries consistently ranking as some of the happiest in the world. The UK is currently (and hopefully still will be when all this is over) one the richest countries in the world. So why does it only rank as the 15th happiest?

This is where it looks like wealth alone falls short of making a country’s population happy. GDP (Gross Domestic Product), the most common marker to indicate the wealth and prosperity of a country, isn’t always the most accurate estimation. GDP measures the market value of all final goods and services that are produced by a country, but not accurately the distribution of income over different levels of society, or the number of people with access to basic necessities.

Policy and good government can bring an enormous difference in happiness

According to the 2020 World Happiness Report, one of the reasons behind the Nordic countries’ high levels of happiness is due to institutional and cultural factors— these being primarily “well-functioning democracy, generous and effective social welfare benefits, low levels of crime and corruption, and satisfied citizens who feel free and trust each other and governmental institutions”. While many of these things are available to the Nordic countries due to their wealth, it’s not wealth alone that provides this— the United States is the seventh richest in the world, yet many don’t have access to healthcare or basic social services, and subsequently it ranks as 19th happiest.

It’s important to understand how beneficial policy and good government can bring such an enormous difference in happiness to the world. If we invest properly in our social services, stamp out corruption in our political system as best we can, people will live in a society that they trust and feel free within, with plentiful access to social security if they need it, and so will be happier. Politics is the key to this; politics enables us to progress society forward and make great structural change. And if the progression of society, and therefore politics, isn’t all about happiness, then what was this all for?

Image: openDemocracy via Flickr

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