Back in 2012, at the height of the International Recession, the United Nations declared an International Day of Happiness - March 20th - and called on all countries to approach public policies in ways that improve well-being.
Since then a number of countries have given it their best shot.
The Right to Happiness is enshrined in Article 9 of the Constitution of Bhutan. Development there is now measured through Gross National Happiness (GNH) - the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of citizens and natural environment. The question ‘Are you Happy?’ is part of the national census. In 2015 35% of the population were ‘extremely happy’, 47.9%; ‘moderately happy’ and only 8.8% ‘unhappy’.
Things began well in India also, where the first Minister for Happiness announced free yoga and meditation classes, but then disappeared following a murder charge against him.
Here in Ireland we have to soldier on without an appropriate Minister to guide us. Reopening of a few abandoned garda stations is the closest we’ve got to even local euphoria.
Politics here may still be in recovery from Hall’s Pictorial Weekly’s savage TV satire in the 70’s of the then Minister for Finance as the Minister for Hardship.
As a result, certainly at third-level, we are still fighting against ever increasing hardship with happiness hardly on the horizon, even for a PhD thesis.
Mind you in IFUT we have had some notable achievements in 2018.
Advances on implementation of Cush, a new pay agreement in the Royal College of Surgeons (RCSI), successful discrimination cases taken to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), numerous cases regarding regularisation of working conditions resolved at local level and at the WRC, and publication of a Department of Education policy document supporting a long standing IFUT demand for action to ensure gender equality in Higher Education were some of the wins of the past year.
Our Union is now bigger than ever, we have established new working groups on equality and researchers, and we are busy developing further initiatives to support our members.
For the first time also an unprecedented joint statement was issued before last year’s Budget by IFUT and TUI, along with the Irish Universities Association and the Union of Students in Ireland, to demand that the government take action to address the ever-deepening crisis in resources and funding in our colleges.
But we are still battling to achieve a change of mind on overall funding by government. Adequate state funding and resources is essential for survival of the fabric of our education system. So far the government refuses to even acknowledge the extent of the crisis in budgetary allocations.
What with the not enough fiscal space a few years ago and now the threat of too much Brexit, the survival, let alone happiness, of our third level institutions remains far from the government’s priority list.
Back to the Minister for Happiness idea again. It was left to the first-ever female Minister for Happiness, Ms Ohood Al Roumi of the United Arab Emirates, to bring some practicality to the concept. Speaking of her role she said that “the role of government is to create an environment where people can flourish – can reach their potential.”
That’s the message of IFUT also. Our job for 2019, together with the organisations and people we work with hourly, daily, weekly and monthly, will be to convince government to make the necessary and vital investments in education to enable our students, staff and institutions to flourish once again.
Oh .... and a very HAPPY 2019 to all our members!