Column| Right To Happiness In Constitutions
March 20th is World Happiness Day - a new piece of knowledge for me. It was on a Resolution proposed by Bhutan, the UN General Assembly decided to observe World Happiness Day. Instead of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a new index came to be acknowledged for measuring the general well being of the population of a country. Where GDP is based on material well being, Gross National Happiness (GNH) takes within its reckoning other factors, mainly mental, spiritual and cultural, as indices of the development of a nation.
Finland tops the list of the UN Report on Happiness, followed by Denmark. Among the Asian countries, Bhutan surprises other mighty players in Asia for the special mention it receives in the report. Variables like wealth, health, education, shelter etc. being the various domains factoring in happiness, the 2023 UN Report also underscores the play of Rule of Law as a major area deciding the overall well being of a nation. Though on first blush, the concept of Rule of Law playing a dominant role seems to be an abstract proposition, factual scenario visuals prove otherwise. Imagine an otherwise content man entering a Government office for a license or some permits for his endeavours like construction of a building or starting a small shop; bribing to untie the red tape on the files causes disgust, resulting in his disgruntlement with the system. This disillusionment disturbs his mindset, though on other fronts he may be thoroughly content. Happiness to be derived from the system recedes to recalcitrance. Citizen’s apathy to a corrupt system defies Rule of Law, thus destroying the Gross National Happiness (GNH).
Is it not also the duty of the State to secure happiness to its citizens, and not merely equality, liberty, or fraternity alone as set out in the Constitution? In other words, should Happiness not be the primordial manifesto of State formation and other values like equality, liberty, fraternity, economic well being and Rule of Law being contributory factors? If so, why does not Happiness find a place in the Preamble to our Constitution or in the Directive Principles of State Policy?
Political Philosophy of Happiness
Hedonism is the generic expression upon which all ancient philosophies on happiness hover. Epicureans believed that the greatest good was to seek modest, sustainable `pleasure’ in the form of a state of tranquillity and freedom from fear and absence of bodily fear (ataraxia) and absence of bodily pain (aponia) through knowledge of the working of the world and limits of desires. This highest pleasure was obtained by knowledge, friendship and living a virtuous and temperate life. The enormity of the theories on happiness in political philosophy and religious texts emphasising ethical happiness shows the importance of the pursuit of happiness as the motto of mankind.
`Happiness Incorporated Constitutions’
“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” - the second line in the US Declaration of Independence of 1776 may be the first expression of Happiness in the documents of Rights in the world. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, the two among the 5 architects of the Declaration of Independence, were swayed by John Lock’s concept of Right to Life, Liberty and Property, while formulating the signature words in the Document of Rights. Right to life and liberty ….. and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety found ingrained in the federal Constitutions of Virginia, Massachusetts and Wisconsin states.
Meyer v. Nebraska [262 U.S.390(1923)] is the judicial imprimatur given to Right to Happiness, when the American Supreme Court set aside `Siman Act’ which prohibited education administered in a foreign language. “Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause protects not only one’s freedom from restraint, but also one’s freedom to engage in contracts, to hold an occupation, to learn and gain knowledge, to marry and raise children, and demonstrate faith and participate in religion”, it was held. These freedoms entitle one generally to enjoy these privileges long recognised at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men;-the judgment succinctly says. The Right to happiness found its resonance further in the later decisions, Loving v. Virginia 388 U.S 1 (1967)] and Obergefell v. Hodges.[U.S 644(2015)]
Article 13 of the Japanese Constitution declares: “All of the people shall be respected as individuals. Their right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness shall, to the extent that it does not interfere with the public welfare, be the supreme consideration in legislation and in other governmental affairs”. Bhutan, whose model of happiness index is being taken as a universal standard, provides for a holistic approach for well being and development. Meaning, development should be done by keeping in mind the collective happiness of people and their well being. For the true pursuit of happiness, the Bhutanese Constitution under Article 7, delineates 23 entitlements as fundamental rights of citizens expressly declaring right to information, freedom of press, radio and television, right to vote, equal pay for equal work, right to intellectual property, right to property, right to be presumed innocent in trial, right against torture, right to privacy etc as core fundamental rights. Article 3 of the Constitution makes Buddhism the spiritual heritage of Bhutan, which promotes the principles and values of peace, non-violence, compassion and tolerance. Protection of the environment is made a fundamental duty of citizens. It is this bunch of rights and duties that make Bhutan one of the happiest Asian countries; actual realization of its constitutional goal of pursuit of happiness is the synergy of constitutional philosophies on fundamental rights and duties. South Korea is another Asian country which recognizes ‘pursuit of happiness’ as a valuable fundamental virtue in their Constitution. In the U.A.E, there is a separate Ministry for Happiness affairs which model our Government can well emulate.
Our constitution, though acclaimed to be one of the finest in the world, appallingly lacks many of the extended concepts of individual liberties for true pursuit of happiness. We drafted our Constitution taking a cue from American and other Constitutions of the world, but failed to take note of pursuit of happiness as the goal to be achieved in governance. True that the Preamble declares that we, the People of India, constitute India into a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic to secure its citizens among other things liberty, equality and fraternity. But we fail to proclaim in our Document of Governance that the ultimate constitutional goal is pursuit of happiness. Happiness includes a host of variables like environmental protection, rule of law, corruption free administration, right to habitation, minimum guarantee of decent pay structure etc. An express incorporation of `pursuit of happiness as legislative purpose’ in our Constitution would have given ample ammunition to the constitutional courts in India for a more vibrant and meaningful interpretation of human rights, laying more emphasis on our cultural ethos and heritage.
Not only material but spiritual growth also made Bhutan stand apart from other Asian countries in the measurement and calibration of happiness. Gross Domestic Product and Gross National Happiness go hand in hand in Bhutan in its pursuit of happiness for its citizen. The cultural heritage founded on Buddhist principles makes Bhutan adopt a holistic approach to the developmental indices for general well being. The adoption of `pursuit of happiness’, which term encapsulates a balanced growth of temporal and spiritual well being of citizens, would have worked as a constitutional bulwark against all sorts of onslaughts on social and cultural fabric of Bharath. Benjamin Franklin says “the Constitution only gives the people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”
The U.N. Report on Happiness 2023 lists India in the 126th position. Less prevalence of corruption enabling the Scandinavian nations to top the Human Happiness Index can be a pointer to the Government Of India to form a separate ministry for Happiness where all wings fighting against corruption shall be brought under for coordinated action. Even the Ministry of Home can be renamed as the Ministry of Home and Happiness as a message of our emphasis on the Happiness index.
Corruption in public life affects the happiness index of a nation. ’PURUSHARTHA’ (Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha) in scriptural prescription is the fundamental guide to mankind’s happiness. Seeking prosperity and fulfilment of all desires through righteousness for the ultimate goal of liberation from the cycle of births is essentially what is pursuit of happiness in Sanathana Dharma. The avoidance of Shatripu( six wrongs; kama, krodha, lobha, moha, mada, matsarya) in the pursuit of goal of mankind(purushartha) will bring in general happiness and well being among citizens. Integral Humanism of Deendayal Upadhyaya aiming at refinement of the body, mind, intellect and soul of a citizen is the political philosophy epitomizing this Vedic philosophy. Ideal it would be if Pursuit of Happiness is tucked into the Preamble to the Constitution in the galaxy of other rights like Liberty and Equality.
The Author is an Advocate practicing in the High Court of Kerala.
[The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. Verdictum does not assume any responsibility or liability for the contents of the article.]