National Honours

There is something called intrinsic worth or value, and nothing external can ever add or subtract to that

All countries have a reward system to honour citizens deemed worthy enough to receive special honours on their national day, as for example Independence – now Republic – day in Mauritius.

Earlier, when we were a colony, it is the British Crown that used to confer its titles, the highest of which was ‘Sir’.

The Lord God bless those who swear by the appendage which a title represents.

Whenever the list of honours is announced, there is always a mixed reaction. Naturally those who are recipients feel elated, and others who feel they too were deserving and have been left out feel let down. Some, we are given to understand, even feel they deserved higher than what they have been awarded. One can imagine that there is a degree of disappointment and frustration among such people, who nevertheless go on to attend the ceremony of award and make sure they are photographed with figures and figureheads of the State deemed to be important.

Of course, when looking at the list, there are citizens who will have certain reservations – not necessarily because they would want to be honoured too, but because they feel that X or Y did not deserve the award. Thus, in the UK for example, several years ago, when one of the Beatles singers was given a title, another recipient opted to refuse his, because he did not want to be associated with this particular category of recipient, for whatever reason.

There is a perception of bias in the selection of awardees, and in a small country the grapevine allows one to roughly make out the reasons for such selection, which vary from ethnic to socio-political and political. Merit is invariably coloured by these tags, and this is no secret in our blessed island where, really, one is left to wonder whenever the list is out.

But in bigger countries too, as alluded to above (the UK) things are not that straight or straightforward. Just a couple of days ago, in the US, President Obama conferred the Medal of Honour on 19 army veterans of the Second World War, who had been left out unfairly on grounds which did not do… honour to the selection system: race, ethnicity and religion. Those officers were either Negro, Jew or Hispanic. Sadly, but not unsurprisingly, only 3 recipients were still around to receive their medals, the others were all posthumous awards.

In the richest country of the world, which usually strides across the world on high moral grounds, this injustice was flagrant to say the least. But there you are, it only shows that human frailty and vanity are uniformly spread across the world.

That a number of people do genuinely deserve their awards is certain – but equally certain is that a few who are chosen are utterly devoid of any such merit. They know it, and others know it too. But these – the awardees – are not at all shy about the fact, and do not miss an opportunity to draw attention to it, thinking that it gives them an additional aura or importance. Which is totally false of course: if you do not have it in you, any decoration will only add to your superficiality. There is something called intrinsic worth or value, and nothing external can ever add or subtract to that. 

* * *

World Happiness Day

Which brings us to International Happiness Day, which the UN has chosen to celebrate on the 20th  March every year. In these times, one can easily turn cynical and ask what is there to be happy about, when there is still so much of suffering in the world, and when we know that much of it is manmade.

Look at what’s happening in Ukraine-Crimea-Russia; the Middle East with all the shattered expectations of the so-called ‘Arab spring’ which has left hundreds dead instead, and no sign of resolution in sight as yet; at the mayhem in Syria; at the unending series of gang-rapes in India which no amount of legislation seems to be able to rein in; at the one-third of humanity who are still living below the poverty line; at bankers in the rich world who are still walking away with inflated bonuses even as unemployment rates there, especially among the youth, remain stubbornly high. The list could go on.

Are we collectively any happier in Mauritius? Maybe we all need to be given awards to make us happy…

Perhaps the World Happiness Day is needed to boost our morale and remind us that all is not lost, that we must keep up hope. With that in mind the UN has come up with a World Happiness Report which ‘proposes fairly unexpected, concrete and empowering avenues. It appeals to our sense of responsibility and encourages us to work through our current difficulties and not assign undue blame to others. That is, our happiness largely depends on us, our lifestyles, here and now.’

The UN report notes ‘the damning failure of the GNP-centered approach to happiness’, citing that ‘while the GNP of the U.S. has grown three-fold in the last 50 years, Americans do not claim to be happier today. There was always a sense that pursuing happiness through growth was illusory — this is now unquestionable.’

It mentions various approaches to achieve happiness, then ‘moves on to a more pragmatic section, drawing on the research of sociologists and psychologists who have observed the concrete factors that positively or negatively impact perceived happiness. It cites inequalities, extreme poverty, and bad health as obstacles to happiness and conversely highlights solidarity, education, freedom of speech, etc., as contributions to happiness.’ It concludes that ‘beyond health, economic and societal variables at the macro level, happiness primarily depends on the lifestyle we adopt, and that, therefore, “we can [improve our quality of life] by adopting a lifestyle and technologies that enhance happiness (or well-being).”’

The Internet and other ‘happiness technologies’ are hailed as tools that can contribute significantly to peoples worldwide gaining happiness. And an analyst to add that ‘this international day of happiness will be very useful if it allows us to realize that our happiness is just around the corner, if we are willing to take the trouble to work toward it individually and collectively with an open and confident attitude.’ Let us be happy…


* Published in print edition on 21 March 2014

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