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SÃO PAULO, Brazil – For the Movimento +Feliz (Happier Movement), happiness is more than just a mood.
Created in 2009 by social activist Mauro Motoryn, the group advocates using happiness as the guiding factor for the creation of public policies.
“Subjective, individual happiness depends on the person,” Motoryn says. “But there is another happiness that is objective, which is attained through government and community action.”
This nongovernmental, nonpartisan movement relies on donations and has the support of approximately 600 politicians, artists and social activists.
On June 19, during an event being held in tandem with the Rio+20 Conference, the Movimento +Feliz will bring together social activists to discuss its cause. The idea is to take advantage of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to raise awareness about the issue.
Happiness has also been included in the official agenda for Rio+20. In July 2011, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution stating that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) alone was not a reflection of the overall happiness and well-being of a country’s residents.
“We need a new economic paradigm recognizing the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development,” said United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during the “Happiness and Well-being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm” meeting held in April at the UN’s headquarters in New York City. “Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible.”
Bhutan, for example, has been basing its public policies on a Gross National Happiness (GNH) index since 1970. Inspired by the Bhutanese initiative, the Getulio Vargas Foundation is creating a formula for calculating Brazil’s GNH.
The UN’s “World Happiness Report” shows the happiest nations are those with the highest per capita income. Denmark, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands lead the ranking, which was compiled through interviews with 1,000 citizens from 150 countries regarding income, freedom and family relations.
The African countries of Togo, Benin, the Central African Republic and Sierra Leone placed last on the list.
“It’s clear that there is a greater chance of being happy in places where social rights and freedom are respected,” Motoryn adds.
A constitutional guarantee of happiness
Senator Cristovam Buarque (PDT-DF), a signatory to the Movimento +Feliz, proposed in May 2010 an amendment to the Brazilian Constitution (PEC) to include the pursuit of happiness through access to education, healthcare, food and housing.
“Knowing your child has a right to education and that it is harder to achieve happiness without it would raise the level of awareness among the population,” Buarque says. “It is the role of the public official to remove the hurdles that make it difficult for common citizens to attain personal happiness.”
Known as the Happiness PEC, the proposal was approved by the Senate’s Constitution, Justice and Citizenship Commission (CCJ) in November 2010. But it has since stalled due to a “lack of support,” Buarque said.
Though Brazil’s Constitution doesn’t recognize happiness as a responsibility of the state, Motoryn points to initiatives introduced by the Federal Government in recent years that are aimed at increasing the country’s collective well-being.
The package includes policies to stabilize the country’s currency, which were introduced in 1994 and are still in place; the Bolsa Família Program, which gives cash to poor families; and the University for All (ProUni) Program, which helps students from low-income families attend private universities.
“What I want is for this to happen in the more than 5,000 municipalities of Brazil,” adds Motoryn, who stresses the importance of bringing these initiatives as close as possible to ordinary citizens, through everyday services such as transportation and public lighting. “After all, people don’t live in a state or a country. They live on a street, in a neighborhood, in a city.”
“We utilize social mobilization to pursue happiness and create the technologies to do this,” Motoryn says.
MyFunCity asks 96 questions based on the criteria used for the Human Development Index (HDI).
When logging on to the application, users enter their location and respond to 12 random questions, such as “Are you satisfied with the street cleaning services in your neighborhood?” or “Are you satisfied with the amount of recreational areas in your neighborhood?”
Based on users’ opinions, MyFunCity creates a map showing the level of collective satisfaction in a given region.
For example, as this article was being written, workers from the São Paulo subway system went on strike. As a result, the general perception in downtown São Paulo was mostly negative.
By monitoring these opinions in real time, public officials can introduce projects targeting specific locations and problems, Motoryn adds.
The initial results, based on the opinions measured to date, will be released on July 1.
MyFunCity already has 24,000 users in Brazil – the majority in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro – and other cities throughout the world. After eight months of tests, the application will be officially launched on the market in July.
The public will continue to use MyFunCity for free, but government officials interested in creating social programs based on the feedback from the community will have to pay for the information collected by the application.
“Getting more users will be easy,” Motoryn says. “The problem is that they become frustrated when they realize that the government isn’t doing what’s expected.”