California Lawmaker Wants to Know What Makes People Happy

    19 March 2024

    March 20 is the United Nations' International Day of Happiness.

    For many years, northern European countries, especially Finland, have been named among the happiest countries on Earth. The United States has never made it into the top 10.

    But California state lawmaker Anthony Rendon is hoping he can do something about happiness in the most populous American state.

    FILE - Assemblyman Anthony Rendon walks with his daughter Vienna before being sworn in as Speaker of the Assembly during the opening session of the California Legislature in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Jos<I>&#</I>233; Luis Villegas, Pool,File)
    FILE - Assemblyman Anthony Rendon walks with his daughter Vienna before being sworn in as Speaker of the Assembly during the opening session of the California Legislature in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Jos&#233; Luis Villegas, Pool,File)

    In his free time, Rendon likes to stay away from the workplace and spend time with his 4-year-old daughter at his home near Los Angeles. Recently, he took her ice skating and to an indoor play area. He said those are the "things that make me happy."

    As one of the longest-serving leaders in the California legislature, Rendon is now trying to make happiness more central to policymaking in his last year in office. He created a first-in-the-nation group to study the issue of happiness. The group is called the Select Committee on Happiness and Public Policy Outcomes.

    Rendon said it would be "silly" for lawmakers to not study how they can make people happier. "Because if we have everybody clothed, everybody housed, everybody has a job and they're miserable, then we've failed at what we're trying to do," he said.

    In California, three-quarters of adults say they are "very happy" or "pretty happy." Twenty-six percent say they are "not too happy." The numbers come from a September 2023 study by the Public Policy Institute of California. The study also says Californians without a post-high school degree and those who earn less money are generally less happy than those with more education and more money.

    The idea of considering happiness in public policy is not new.

    The South Asian nation of Bhutan sets happiness as a goal of its public policy. The country asks its people about their level of happiness for what is called the Gross National Happiness Index. Officials then work to increase happiness by providing citizens with free health care and education. They also work to protect things like cultural traditions and the country's forests.

    Phuntsho Norbu is consul general of Bhutan to the United States. Norbu said the government cannot make every person happy. But he said the government should "create the right conditions" to help people find happiness.

    In California, lawmakers recently heard from experts about the things that make people happy and how public officials can support people's happiness.

    Meliksah Demir is a professor of happiness at California State University, Sacramento. Demir said research shows that leisure activities, social relationships and life situations affect a person's happiness. He added that public officials can help by investing in mental health resources, adding green spaces and teaching about the value of happiness early on in schools.

    Rendon said California is behind many parts of the world in looking at happiness in policymaking. He said he wanted to create the happiness committee after seeing a yearly report on happiness by the United Nations.

    Last year's happiness report said that the way people view the effectiveness of government can influence their happiness. The United States was 15th in the world happiness ranking based on a three-year average from 2020 to 2022. Scandinavian countries, including Finland and Iceland, ranked the highest.

    Kristina Bas Hamilton is a long-time labor supporter in California. "Government's role is to provide for its people," Bas Hamilton said. "The goal is to have happy citizens. That's the goal of all public policy."

    I'm Ashley Thompson.

    Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English based on a report from The Associated Press.


    Words in This Story

    miserable - adj. very unhappy

    leisure - n. enjoyable activities when you are not working

    view - v. think about something in a particular way

    ranking - n. list of things that are placed in order based on their quality, ability, etc.