When I got into work today, I saw brightly coloured balloons on a sign that proclaimed today as the International Day of Happiness. When I looked up what this meant, I came across this statement:
"The day recognizes that happiness is a fundamental human goal, and calls upon countries to approach public policies in ways that improve the well being of all peoples.
By designating a special day for happiness, the UN aims to focus world attention on the idea that economic growth must be inclusive, equitable, and balanced, such that it promotes sustainable development, and alleviates poverty. Additionally the UN acknowledges that in order to attain global happiness, economic development must be accompanied by social and environmental well being." (http://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/un/happiness-day)
While most of us would have that first instinct of 'oh, how nice,' my second, more suspicious analytical mind kicked in with, 'so what?'
The International Day of Happiness doesn't actually do anything. One could argue that most days are the same, and while they don't achieve any specific objectives, they raise awareness, in the same vein that tomorrow, for example, is the International Day for the Elimination of Racism (March 21st). One of the primary differences is that racism is a tangible issue with a generally well-accepted definition; happiness, on other hand, is a more slippery concept.
To think that this is a notion to raise awareness about the pursuit of happiness as being a fundamental human goal rings hollow when people don't fundamentally agree what happiness is or what is required to get there. Declaring a special day to think about it doesn't make it more relevant or less true, than, say, for example, proclaiming an international food appreciation day. Consider this slightly modified version:
"The day recognizes that food is a fundamental human goal and calls upon countries to approach public policies in ways that improve the well being of all peoples.
By designating a special day for food, the UN aims to focus world attention on the idea that economic growth must be inclusive, equitable, and balanced, such that it promotes sustainable development, and alleviates poverty. Additionally the UN acknowledges that in order to attain food, economic development must be accompanied by social and environmental well being."
By replacing the exact same statement with the word 'food' instead of 'happiness', this message seems even more hollow. Actions are going to be the real determinant of whether or not certain designated days are successful and those actions are not going to be limited to putting up balloons. If the International Food Appreciation Day was accompanied by a global campaign to get food donations for needy countries or fill the stores of food banks in small communities, then it would mean something. Just as the International Day for the Elimination of Racism includes awareness campaigns, remembrance and important history lessons, as well as current examples of racist practices and how they can be stopped or mitigated.
So what exactly does the International Day of Happiness promise, other than balloons and the celebration of a highly Western concept that is ill-defined at the best of times? Nicely encouraging world governments to be mindful of the welfare of its citizens when making its policies is not really doing anything. In fact, it's laughable when you consider that Cyprus proposed to take money from citizens individual savings account to bail the country out, Canada is about to release yet another draconian budget, the European Union is headed for collapse, environmental policies are being written by oil and gas corporations and Chinese factory workers are throwing themselves off buildings while making ipads.
But let's all take a moment to enjoy some balloons.