The UN Says: Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Did we all have a Happy Happy Day? I spent it thinking: What does it mean to be happy? Happiness is the state of mind that we are being told to constantly strive for: Shiny happy people, have a happy new year and if your happy and you know it and you really want to show it, put up some nauseating Facebook status. Yet I wonder how many of us have actually defined in any substantive way what happiness means for us? It acts mainly as concept for us to use to contrast our current state of mind against: “If only I could win/buy/be this thing, then I would be happy.” Now the United Nations have actually mandated an annual day ‘to promote happiness as the universal goal and aspiration in the lives of human beings around the world.’ This is confusing because firstly, happiness is an abstract and subjective concept, and secondly, isn’t that what our lives are supposed to be about anyway?

To be fair to the guys at the UN, the reason for making yesterday, the 20th of March, “International Happiness Day” was to undermine our obsession with perpetual growth as the sole target for global society. This is an important psychological break for global society to make, but choosing ‘happiness’ to be ‘growths’ replacement ignores the symbiotic relationship between the two concepts. Since Europe and North America choose to farm out the production of almost all of our goods to the Global South, a quest for happiness has been the fuel that propels the two main engines of our economic growth: debt and consumption. Happiness was now a marketing tool to encourage us to spend more and more money and in order to be effective, it had to be both essentially external and unreachable. If we were to keep buying evermore cars, shoes and holidays then happiness had to mean instant but only temporary gratification for the self. So now, here in the West, what often counts as ‘happiness’ is in fact only extreme stimulation, which can be bought with just a credit card or two. While I like a ‘stimulating’ Friday night as much as the next guy, it is a distraction from life not the aim of life.

If this ‘International Happiness Day’ takes off, I can imagine the 20th of March each year becoming even more vomit-inducing than Valentines day. Smiley-faced balloons hanging from every street corner, cheesy adverts telling you about ‘The Happiness Day Sale’ at the local mall, the tune from ‘Happy Days’ playing repeatedly from every shop. I might look happy on that day but that’s because there is a thine line between excessive happiness and insanity. German playwright Bertold Brecht said about life in the Hollywood golden age “It’s exhausting to live here. Everyone is telling me to keep smiling all the time.” Now I know he was an evil Marxist who, with his buddies from the Frankfurt School, tried to destroy America because Glenn Beck told me so. But at least his plays provoke the full range of emotional experience. Can the same be said about Die Hard 5?

This unprovoked attack on the construct of happiness could just be evidence that I am at my core, just a miserable bastard; the result of being raised in raid-sodden Northern England on a diet of cold mushy peas and The Smiths. You guys might feel different, after all the ‘pursuit of happiness’ is the promise of the American Revolution, written into the Declaration of Independence. But for American support for my position against the fetishisation of happiness, I turn to the Notorious B.I.G who in ‘Hold Ya Head’ rejects the idea of eternal bliss in his usual eloquent fashion stating “Hanging with the goodie goodies loungin’ in the paradise, Fuck that shit I want to tote guns and shoot dice.” Unlike the late Christopher, I do not seek to ‘tote guns’ but I do recognise the truthfulness of defiance, of failure, of loss, of despair, of all the elements of human life that exist outside the placid state of happiness.

Happiness, as we use the term, is just satisfying our drive for pleasure and any student of Freud will tell you that people obsessed with chasing ‘the pleasure principle’ are psychologically equated with a state of infancy. What does that say about a global body like the UN creating ‘International Happiness Day?’ Really, an enforced happy day across the world? It sounds sacrilegious but not everyone’s happiness should be encouraged all the time. The sadist gets pleasure from inflicting pain. The racist gets pleasure from oppressing or exterminating the racial other. Should their happiness be the goal of their lives? Should happiness be the goal of any of our lives? John Lennon, a fellow miserablist from Merseyside, told us “Life is what happens to you when your busy making other plans,” and life has been passing a lot of us by while we make plans that will one day get us to the place where we are happy. The largely agnostic young Westerner often looks patronizingly at those less developed parts of the world that still have their cute belief in a God and Heaven. We should realize that our search for endless happiness only mirrors their search for a Paradise. Rather than try to be happy, I’d rather enjoy life.