The United Arab Emirates recently announced the creation of a new government post - "minister of state for happiness." According to The Washington Post, the minister will "align and drive government policy to create social good and satisfaction." That sounds like a great new idea. But further reading reveals that Venezuela and Ecuador created similar positions in 2013. And if you really want to get technical, the idea originated in the United States in 1934. That's when a movie called "Stand Up and Cheer" played throughout depression-era America.
The film is about a Broadway producer appointed as a cabinet secretary to the newly created Department of Amusement. He enlists a bunch of his friends to sing, dance and boost morale. Hey, it was The Depression. The film made Shirley Temple a star.
So why doesn't the United States have a Department of Amusement or Happiness? After all, we thought of it first. That's why it's hard to believe Venezuela, Ecuador and the United Arab Emirates beat us to it. OK, it's not the 1930s and we're no longer in the Great Depression. But in lots of ways, our current problems are worse. Climate change. The threat of nuclear destruction. And the hangover of the Great Recession. Just to name a few.
Most important, our American character almost demands such a department. Worldwide we're known for our can-do spirit, optimism and sense of humor. Happiness is even enshrined in the Declaration of Independence which entitles us to the pursuit of it. Clearly, the founders thought happiness was a big deal; on the same level as life and liberty.
In fact, a Department of Happiness might remedy one of the biggest problems facing our country today - polarization. Everything is left or right, red or blue, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat. It seems like we're being ripped apart by ourselves. Congress is gridlocked. Compromise has become a dirty word. Civil discourse has disappeared. Our great melting pot has cracked.
But what if there was something everyone could agree upon? Like a Department of Happiness. Here's how it could work to support today's opposing political philosophies.
First, the Department would build a wall along our southern border. But it would be a climbing wall. That's fun for kids of all ages. Then the Department would ban masochists from entering the U.S. They hate the American value of happiness; and they're not a protected class. Finally, financial districts throughout the country would broadcast comedy videos in numerous public places. So Americans would be laughing all the way to the bank. These moves should appeal to both Democrats and Republicans.
The biggest theoretical hurdle would be paying for the new Department. Wouldn't it increase the deficit? Not at all. Under my plan, we'd save money and shrink government. Here's how. The Department of Happiness would replace all other cabinet departments. So we'd go from 15 departments to one. Just the salary savings on cabinet secretaries would be substantial; not to mention thousands of bureaucrats.
Could one Department of Happiness do the work of all the others? Absolutely. For example, everyone knows laughter is the best medicine. That covers Health and Human Services. Being happy is the best mental state. That covers the Department of State; also the Department of Interior. Happiness contributes to a positive self-image. That covers Homeland Security. Well, you get the idea. Everything we already do is designed to create and secure our happiness. So obviously, one department with that goal can replace all the others.
Most important, a Department of Happiness would promote government transparency and accountability. The Department would only have to answer one question. A quintessentially American question posed many decades ago by legendary band leader Ted Lewis: "Is everybody happy?"