Why celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s legacy as a founding father when you can “celebrate happiness” instead, with clowns, community service, conferences discussing public transportation, and drum circles? This is the intellectual question burning brightly on college campuses and even in some town squares, where Jefferson’s April 13th birthday has been recycled into something called The Pursuit of Happiness Day.
Pursuit of Happiness Day may sound like a celebration of the Declaration of Independence, but one would be wrong in making that assumption.
Pursuit of Happiness Day is actually the U.S. iteration of a worldwide movement recently kicked off at the United Nations and promoting the invention of another founding father of sorts: King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, former monarch of the tiny nation of Bhutan. In 1972, then-King Wangchuck came up with an economic model he dubbed the Gross National Happiness index (GNH). It took a while to catch on, but the King’s Happiness index is now revered as a holistic improvement over the Gross National Product index, and, by extension, the entire capitalist, consumerist, free-market priorities of the West. Read: America.
The New York Times was so impressed it ran a story in advance on “The U.N. Happiness Project.”
Instead of measuring a nation’s economic productivity, Gross National Happiness purports to gauge public “happiness.” This is broadly defined as the “why” of life, not the “what” and specifies measurements of citizens’ physical and psychological health, education, “time use,” community and cultural support, and satisfaction with government. More on that last one, later.
On U.S. campuses, Pursuit of Happiness Day events this Friday are being modeled on Earth Day, with all the attendant negativity about Americans’ wasteful lifestyles staged alongside celebrations of the “mindfulness” and “sustainability” and “authenticity” of non-Western or socialist countries. People other than us, the story goes, have embraced the principles of Gross National Happiness, while Walmart shopping Americans continue to wallow in the myopia of mindless economic productivity.
This repurposing of Jefferson’s birthday is being carried out by the same people who turned remembrances of the 9/11 terrorist attacks into vaguely leftist National Service Days. Pursuit of Happiness events are thus light on remembering history and heavy on collective activism. Rather than studying Jefferson’s intellectual and political legacies, colleges and universities are offering happiness circles, happiness marches, screenings of “insights from happiness scholars,” and other happiness busywork.
If these doesn’t scream Little Red Book quite enough for you, a collective named Sustainable Seattle is marketing a Pursuit of Happiness event “toolbox” of truly alarming activities, such as instructing students in “building happiness teams” to be deployed for future Happiness events, and offering mass personality tests to measure community happiness levels.
Because, what says “happiness” or “founding father” quite like taking part in coercive group psychological screenings?
Not to be outdone, institutions as diverse as the City of Seattle and the state of Vermont are hosting their own Pursuit of Happiness events. In Vermont, the governor is kicking off Jefferson’s birthday with a proclamation declaring Pursuit of Happiness Day, followed by a public march to something called The Happiness Paradigm Store and Experience in Maple Corner, Vermont.
Once participants have completed the impressively long march between Montpelier and Maple Corner, they can purchase Happiness Quotation Magnets made from disposable coffee machine cups for only $6.50 each, or recycled paper Mini Gratitude Journals (“Mini refers to the size, not the amount of gratitude!”).
If this all seems a very long way from Thomas Jefferson’s eloquent and complex nation building, you’re missing the point. Stripping the Jefferson out of Jefferson’s holiday is the point. Deans of Civic Engagement do not get out of bed in the morning to praise the founding fathers and economic productivity any more than the people who invented teach-ins to commemorate 9/11 get out of bed in the morning to celebrate the continued existence of Jefferson’s experiment in constitutional democracy.
At a recent pre-Happiness Day celebration Picnic, the gurus of Allegheny College’s Center for Political Participation instructed students to “share their ideas about happiness by writing them on puzzle-shaped pieces” which were “formed [into] a collage of various ideas about happiness” and “traded for local foods and other refreshments.” After thus play-acting at participating in an actual economic market, students “were then encouraged to spend time in deliberative dialogue about happiness, work/life balance, the importance of community, and other important ideas.” A full day, indeed, of pretend toil with glue sticks in the pretend fields of re-education, sponsored by Allegheny College’s Eco-Rep Program of the Minimization Mania Initiative, which, unfortunately, is completely real.
A thinly veiled subtext beneath all of these Happiness parades and paper-maché heart making sessions is pathological animosity towards America. The Sustainable Seattle website links to a power point referring to the U.S. as having “the Grossest Domestic Product in the world.”
The feeling that this is authoritarianism with a smiley face is one feeling that probably ought to be studied. But the Happiness movement is not merely a celebration of “sustainability,” or anti-consumerism, or the Bhutanese philosophy of holistic economics: it is now part of a snowballing effort to expand the reach of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals Project, which would tax wealthy nations in order to support poorer ones. The U.N. intends to collect and oversee the distribution of these taxes.
And so, from tiny recycled gratitude journals do mighty international tax plans grow. At a U.N. “Happiness and Well-Being” conference last week, Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia University economist and founder of the Millennium Development Goals Project, released a “World Happiness Report” explicitly tying the priorities of the Happiness Index to the Millennium Development Goals Project’s taxation scheme. The cost in additional foreign aid from the U.S. to the rest of the world: $845 billion, to come mostly from a global tax on America.
Sachs is working with fellow Columbia University economist Joseph E. Stiglitz to promote the global tax.
Both men also work closely with billionaire financier George Soros to advance the Millennium Goals agenda through nonprofit entities funded by Soros, including Project Syndicate, the Institute for New Economic Thinking, and scores of other environmental “sustainability” and “social justice” groups targeting college-aged populations.
In 2006, Soros donated $50 million directly to Sachs’ Millennium Goals Project. But his greatest future contribution to advancing the global tax agenda may lie in his nonprofit empire’s ability to link environmental “sustainability” with “global citizenship” and “civic engagement” on college campuses, raising a new generation of young people for whom global taxes and collective Happiness naturally march hand-in-hand.
With the release of Sachs’ “World Happiness” report, the U.N.’s “Happiness and Wellbeing” conference, the recent implementation of a 2011 U.N. resolution adopting the Gross National Happiness Index, the steady advance of the Millennium agenda, and the introduction of Pursuit of Happiness Day activities on campuses throughout the country, it is time for a national gut-check on the Happiness crusade.