The pursuit of happiness

Bhutan is no ordinary state: it is a constitutional monarchy ruled by King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, a 30-year-old former Oxford student with a handful of doctorates, a Facebook page and a passion for gardening.

Back in 1971, the Wangchuck dynasty took the idea of people’s happiness way beyond standard rhetoric: the government designed a proper GNH, Gross National Happiness Index.

How do you maximise happiness? King Jigme Senior had his own controversial plan. First, a massive reduction in advertising (Pepsi and Coca Cola are virtually banned from the country). Second, a selective censorship on TV channels and other commodities. Apparently MTV and wrestling programmes do little to promote happiness, and neither do tobacco and plastic bags. Television was first introduced in 1999. The one set of traffic lights Bhutan ever had was placed in one of the capital’s junctions, but as people found the mechanism too artificial, they went back to using human beings.

This pursuit-of-happiness phenomenon is spreading. News from Downing Street said David Cameron wants to increase Britons’ happiness. How?

It is unlikely London commuters will wake up one day and find the London Underground system suddenly too artificial, or that they will push for a ban on Tesco plastic bags.

Also, Cameron is no king. The Wangchuck dynasty had the required powers to implement their happiness formula. Happiness was achieved at the cost of censorship and prohibitions. The Conservatives have no power to suppress BBC war reports, or the Warwick Unibus system, for that matter, on the grounds that they depress us. King Jigme’s formula needs radical editing if it were to be adopted by a society in which commodities have become a matter of self-identification.

Maybe Cameron need not be the new King of Bhutan to see his ‘joy plan’ work. We may well settle for a 44-year-old without the charming, Buddha-like looks of his colleague. The whole idea could eventually take off, provided he realizes an increase in happiness will not come out of prohibitions and cuts. Sadly, this includes cuts on education too. So much for Neverlands and lands of happiness made in Britain.


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