Delhi Education Minister Manish Sisodia has raised eyebrows, hackles, hopes and fears in equal measure by announcing a happiness curriculum for government schools. While the effects of the plan on the future happiness of students will interest everyone, the initial responses hold up a mirror to a society that’s fed up. A society which really needs to talk about happiness.
Alarmed people demand to know if happiness can be taught. Specifically, can governments teach happiness? Should they be allowed to? Isn’t there any limit to their intrusive paternalism? These questions are symptoms of a society which is tired of being dictated to. It is a restive culture of compliance. Besides, the word “curriculum” had wormed its way into the discussion, and every educated human has a healthy anxiety about what it suggests — study material, courses, tutorials. And what about exams, eh? Imagine exams in being happy. Preposterous! But this is an exam-obsessed country, so exams in happiness are inevitable.
Actually, no one has threatened to either teach or examine school students about happiness. The government is inspired by Bhutan’s example. In a clever move to undermine mainstream metrics like GDP and developmental indices, the Land of the Thunder Dragon had promoted a Happiness Index. Apart from the tactical benefit to a nation disadvantaged by history and geography, the idea is attractive in the modern world. When money no longer buys happiness, when geopolitics and market turbulence can strike from afar, when the world changes too fast for human comprehension and the comforts of religion are acknowledged to be illusory, the standard metrics also seem inadequate. And the activity-based pursuit of happiness in schools starts looking like an interesting idea. Except that when it is floated, coincidentally, within days of a slim volume titled Exam Warriors reaching bookstores, primordial fears about curricula naturally arise.