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What does it mean to be happy? How can we achieve greater happiness in our society? These are some of the most important yet hardly discussed issues of modern-day society. We have overcome the primitive necessities for subsistence and are thriving more than ever in a world where, we think to ourselves, we should be happier. We have the greatest technologies in our time, the wealthiest economies, more harmonious societies, and so on. And yet we still find that some things are missing. Not everyone seems to be as well off mentally, emotionally, or even socially. Not everyone seems to feel as satisfied with their economic wealth than one may expect when viewing it in relation to much of human history. In fact, in the United States, although incomes have tripled over the past six decades, the level of happiness felt by citizens has not increased a bit.
Happiness in Action is the title of a book written by Aaron Chen, Jason Hendrawan, and myself, Kenji Tan. It attempts to explore the intricately complex interdisciplinary social studies and sciences of the concept of happiness and how it has shaped our lives and the larger society. Aimed at teenagers primarily but readable by any, this book was written with the understanding that this crucial, even existential, topic is not nearly talked about enough in the public. Often times we view happiness as just another emotion. A sensation we might encounter, fleetingly, that dissipates into the void that we pay little mind to, other than it being a pleasant feeling. We might think it nice to have and seek out of course, but only as a pleasurable side effect to our materialistic habits. But that is a detrimental understatement to be making for the most powerful determinant for our mental, emotional, social, intellectual, and even physical wellbeing.
You may be tempted to retort, saying “well yes of course we would all like to have more happiness in our lives but there is not much we can do about it in a world where competition, greed, and limited resources restrict our neverending desires for more”. However, this is precisely the flaw of our world today. We complacently accept the status quo of a largely unfair, zero-sum game where if one person were to gain more, another would inevitably have to lose out. Doesn’t this sound very self-defeating as a society? We are social animals that rely on community, harmony, and cooperation. Such flaws in our system as those mentioned prior lay the foundations of much of our inefficiencies in society as a whole. It is possible to tackle these issues directly, at the heart of maximizing happiness and minimizing the suffering of people. Through good public policy-making aimed at putting citizens’ wellbeing first, and promoting communal trust, countries like Finland and Denmark have become, according to the World Happiness Report, the most “happiest countries in the world”.
In recent years, this intrinsically humanitarian issue of happiness has been garnering much more attention in the public eye with academia and governments alike looking for better solutions for our modern-day issues. Some of these include mental health, environmental sustainability, and direct government efforts on increasing a nation’s happiness. These are no longer the stuff of fluff and fantasy. Happiness is increasingly being seen as a concrete goal that can be planned, measured, and accomplished with major beneficial results for a prosperous nation, not just economically as we have often focused on in the past. This book aims at being a part of this movement for the betterment of humanity, so that we may all come to live in an evermore happy society.