How far apart are happy and unhappy?
Partyforumseasia: Is happiness a political category or can it be a political goal?
The Irish philosopher Francis Hutcheson introduced a new political interpretation of happiness in his 1725 treatise “An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue“. His formula “The greatest Happiness for the greatest Numbers” influenced the political thinking of the 18th century and made it into the American Declaration of Independence.
In 1972 the notion was re-introduced into the international arena by the King of Bhutan as “Gross National Happiness (GNH) and an alternative to the western concept of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Today, March 20, we celebrate the International Day of Happiness (or Happiness Day) which was instated by the United Nations on 28 June 2012 in a rare unanimous vote of all 193 nations as resolution 66/281 (Link).
In our predominantly Hobbesian world with endless wars, exploitation, hunger and oppression the ideal of a better society is nice and worth supporting. The UN and charitable organizations have created programs and comparative rankings of happiness among the world’s nations. The criteria used by the UN are as follows:
Not surprisingly, the richest countries are rated as the most happy ones, starting with Denmark (no. 1), Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Finland, followed by Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, and Sweden (no. 10).
Southeast Asia’s top scorer, no surprise as well, is Singapore – just by a few points on top of former colonial master Great Britain:
Singapore’s GDP-beam in yellow is rather visible, but good and clean governance as well as increasing social support for the needy have at least created a strong absolute majority of voters happy with the ruling People’s Action Party. The small and splintered opposition may be unhappy politically but quite happy privately…
Runner up is Thailand, politically not the happiest country in Southeast Asia right now. The military regime and the uncertain way back to democracy are weighing down the mood of many citizens.
Second runner up, Malaysia, has also seen happier days in its political development. PM Najib may survive through all the scandals surrounding his government, but many Malaysians are not really happy with the status quo.
Indonesia, politically and economically at an assortment of crossroads, should be relatively happy in 2016, probably more than Thailand and Malaysia.
The Philippines have been known as mastering economic and political hardship with a big smile. The administration of President Aquino has presided over quite a number of positive developments. Partyforumseasia would rate the country better than no. 82!
Vietnam is burdened with an antiquated bureaucracy and performs below her true potential. Maybe this has caused the low ranking world-wide an in the region.
Laos is in many ways similar to Communist ally Vietnam but poorer and slower. The regime keeps the country and its true potential somewhat hidden, maybe the Laotians are more happy than we think?
Myanmar is just entering a new political era under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi. The popular mood is very upbeat and optimistic, so the low UN-ranking seems to be outdated. In terms of new chances and happiness Partyforumseasia would rank the country much higher.
Cambodia comes last in Southeast Asia, probably due to the domestic struggle between the ruling CPP and the opposition CNRP, as well as Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy. International help and ODA have been flowing in for decades now, there is progress, true, but the situation could be better. The young generation is certainly more optimistic and happier than the older one still haunted by memories of the Khmer Rouge nightmare and the Vietnamese occupation.
Politics and Happiness? Understood as life chances and choices for the individual citizen, political happiness is not a pipe dream. As we see all over the world, wrong policies and the wrong type of political leaders are spoiling or destroying the lives of hundreds of millions of people. May the happiness ranking contribute to more awareness of the importance of good governance and political responsibility.