Brazil Senate passes amendment to make pursuit of happiness a fundamental right

By Jonathan Wheatley
Thursday, November 11, 2010; 7:34 PM

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - A Senate committee in Brazil approved a "happiness amendment" that, if passed by Congress, would make the pursuit of happiness a fundamental right guaranteed by the country's constitution.

The amendment was the project of a nonprofit organization, the Movimento Mais Feliz (Happier Movement). It was sponsored by Cristovam Buarque, a senator and former presidential candidate who campaigned for greater investment in education as an essential element in promoting growth and development.

Yet Buarque still casts doubt on the effectiveness of guaranteeing happiness through legislation.

"I would rather vote for political reform or a big movement against corruption," he said, "but this amendment came on to the agenda, and happily it was approved. I will try to make other changes to the constitution to bring about other important advances."

Cristiano Paixao, a professor of law at the University of Brasilia, described the amendment as "a useless and worrying change to the constitution."

"It gives the population the idea that happiness can be brought about by an act of the national Congress," he said.

The search for happiness is not new, either in the Americas or elsewhere. "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is one of the most famous phrases in the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan considers its "gross national happiness" index - which attempts to measure quality of life or social progress in more holistic and psychological terms than gross domestic product - integral to national policy.

The Brazilian amendment says it aims to promote happiness through access to such services by acting on five fronts: increasing popular awareness, mobilizing social groups, stimulating participation in social projects, training "multipliers" and motivating citizens to contribute to its projects.

"The state has the obligation to create conditions to provide education, health, security, etc.," the amendment says. "The idea is to force the state to assume the responsibility of meeting these needs so that citizens can seek happiness."

- Financial Times

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