20 March 2017, GENEVA - Today marks the 2017 International Day of Happiness which was proclaimed in 2012 by the United Nations (UN) as an international day.
It is celebrated throughout the world with the aim of capturing the importance of the pursuit of happiness and well-being in societies.
The renowned Greek philosopher Aristotle once said that happiness is the moral compass of humanity:
“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”
Although happiness has been considered as a conception promoting a sustained ethical living, happiness has increasingly been equated with economic progress and accumulation of wealth.
It is worth asking ourselves why the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/281 stipulating the need for “a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples1.”
Since the end of the Cold War and the East-West rivalry, the world has witnessed unprecedented economic growth and human prosperity.
According to statistics from the World Bank, the world GDP stood at USD 23.8 trillion in 1991, whereas it reached a staggering USD 74.1 trillion in 20152.
This is equivalent to a tripling of the world’s economic output during the last 24 years.
One would assume that this extraordinary increase in global economic wealth would accelerate the process of bridging the gap between the poor and the rich, within and between countries, addressing inequality and eradicating poverty.
While absolute poverty was reduced over this period, the added wealth generated by the world economy has led to an increasing uneven distribution of income leading to an increasing polarisation of all societies. This has contributed to increasing frustration, anger and despair.
Nor has the creation of wealth managed to cope with the world’s most pressing challenges owing to the inadequacy of economic growth as a measure of success.
Happiness has merely been reduced to a material pursuit of physical objects and accumulation of wealth that has left a social vacuum filled by materialism and consumerism.
This needs to change.
Governments can play a prominent role in implementing policies promoting happiness and advancing social progress beyond economic terms in line with UN Resolution 66/281.
The most productive policies are those that empower people to maximize their capacities, resources and opportunities.
Economic, social and cultural barriers hindering the participation of various segments of the population need to be eliminated.
Inequality, poverty, unemployment and discrimination cause social unrest and social tensions threatening the integrity and stability of societies.
People must be enabled to attain their personal goals and ideals of life.
I have witnessed that several states are leading the way and acting as pioneers in terms of putting happiness in the forefront of good governance.
Bhutan has for decades measured the happiness of its citizens through the principle of Gross National Happiness as an alternative to the concept of Gross National Product (GDP).
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has recently established a Ministry of Happiness, Tolerance and the Future with the ambition of allowing people to achieve happiness3.
It has also endorsed a National Happiness and Positivity Charter stipulating the UAE government's commitment to promote happiness within the UAE society4.
India has likewise decided to set-up a Ministry of Happiness to spread happiness and enhance the well-being of its more than 1 billion citizens5.
Venezuela has also joined the ranks of the UAE and India by establishing a Ministry of Happiness to further promote happiness within the Venezuelan society6.
These important developments show a promising trend in the perception of governments to promote happiness beyond economic terms.
This could become a starting-point for integrating happiness as a criterion of good governance.
I believe this is the right path to take as promoting happiness is key to society’s success.
1 UN General Assembly 2012. “Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 28 June 2012.” 12.07.2012. (available online at 19.03.2017)
2 The World Bank 2017. “GDP (current US$).” (available online at 18.03.2017)
3 Project Syndicate 2016. “A Future of Happiness, Tolerance, and Youth.” 27.02.2016. Online. URL: (available online at 19.02.2017)
4 United Arab Emirates. The Cabinet 2017. “Mohammed Bin Rashid. Happiness & positivity are lifestyle, government commitment and a spirit uniting UAE.” (available online at 18.03.2017)
5 Biswas, Soutik 2017. “Inside India's first department of happiness” in BBC. 30.01.2017 (available online at 19.02.2017)
6 The Telegraph 2016. “Venezuela creates Social Happiness ministry.” 26.10.2013. (available online at 19.03.2017)