Politics, the struggle for power, seems to leave no room for happiness, but then we know that leaders can be very happy. The more vertical and hierarchical a system is, the more happiness it accumulates at the top.
More than once I have wondered if Putin would have invaded Ukraine if he was a happy person. I understand that the idea may seem absurd. Individual happiness and political power inhabit different universes. But, even so, the president is also a person attached to his circumstances. When he has to make a decision in the solitude of his office, his emotional state has a weight, as does the information that will lead him to act in one direction or another. I think it is very evident in autocracies, where there are no checks on the executive power, but in parliamentary democracies the happiness of the prime minister is also important.
We know that life is much more than happiness and that happiness is subjective. Since she does not depend on money, we can find her in the suburbs of Calcutta and Port-au-Prince. Being happy with what you have, getting rid of the superfluous, are paths explored since the time of the ascetics to rise above the world and achieve happiness, that is, the absence of pain.
Happiness is a political tool: no one gains power without promising a happy world
Happiness, however, in the hands of a president is something else. To begin with, it is a political tool. It is impossible for a candidate to win an election today if he does not promise to lead us to a happier world.
Hubert Humphrey, the 1968 Democratic candidate for President of the United States, campaigned on the pedestal of happiness. His “happiness politics” was a strategy to present himself as the candidate of unity and hope. “I am happy for the opportunity that I have to do something for my country,” he said. His rival Eugene McCarthy copied his idea. He spoke of the need for “public happiness”, as if it were a pillar of society as basic as education and health. The elections that year, however, were narrowly won by the unhappy Richard Nixon. His pessimistic realism was more in keeping with the humor of a society torn apart by the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and the Kennedy brothers.
Finland is another example that happiness, by itself, does not guarantee anything. The United Nations report on happiness in the world has been ensuring for six years that it is the happiest country of all. The classification is not made based on GDP or other economic indicators, but on the basis of personal interviews. Gallup asks respondents if they had a laugh the day before, learned something interesting, or felt respected. The Finns are the ones who answer yes the most. However, this collective happiness has not prevented the gradual expansion of populism, which culminated last June with the entry of the extreme right into the Government.
Nobody should be happy in violence, betrayal and deceit, the most common scenarios of power
I do not believe that happiness can occur outside of an ethical framework. Nobody should be happy in violence, betrayal and deceit, but this is precisely what often happens at the pinnacle of power. They are your most common scenarios.
Yona Kifer, a psychologist at Tel Aviv University, says that power brings happiness. She has shown it in a study that she published last January. The powerful are happier because they have the sensation of being more authentic, of living “in tune with their most intimate desires and inclinations”, of being more themselves.
Their happiness, in any case, is subject to hierarchy: it plummets when they are no longer at the top. Many even get depressed and friends do not help them because friendship is not based on hierarchy but on equality.
Democracy is a community of equals and therefore has the potential to be a network of friends. If we abolished hierarchies, all politicians could be happy because the more horizontal a management system is, the more happiness it radiates.
Autocracies, by contrast, concentrate power and happiness in the hands of the leader. Thus, while the majority of humanity is happy with love, beauty and virtue, Putin is making war from the solitude of the Kremlin. It’s a pity that Berlusconi didn’t invite him more frequently to the summer parties that he organized in Sardinia.