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View Full Version : Join the Movement for Happiness! (Happiness as a government policy....)


andyandy
29th March 2010, 05:08 AM
The Movement for Happiness has just been launched in the UK....Basically trying to get government policy focused on how to improve happiness and welbeing in society - something that you would think should be central to government policy, but often isn't....

In particular:

Income. Income is enormously important to people. But the fundamental paradox identified by Richard Easterlin thirty years ago remains true. In any given society at a given time extra income makes an individual happier. But over time as an advanced society gets richer its people become no happier. The fundamental reason for this is that people are comparing their incomes with other people’s incomes. As all become richer relative incomes are unchanged – or, if some go up, others go down. It is a zero-sum game in which the total of relative income cannot be changed, however much effort people spend in the attempt. That is why it is so important that our society moves from this zero-sum game to more positive-sum games where the total can be raised through an improved quality of human relationships.

[snip]

For the advanced countries two basic facts remain unchallenged – that in the U.S., Britain and (West) Germany, happiness has not risen since records began, despite rapid economic growth, and any association between GNP and average happiness is short-term, reflecting the effects of the business cycle rather than of long-term economic growth. So raising the long-term rate of economic growth is a senseless goal for advanced societies. To raise our happiness we have to work on other, more important, factors affecting our happiness.

Relationships. More trusting people are happier - and so are more trusting societies, like those in Scandinavia. In Britain and the U.S. fifty years ago, 60% said Yes to the question. Now it is down to 30%. That is a measure of what we have lost through the excessive emphasis we have put upon competition between people – all in the name of greater efficiency and wealth-creation. But solidarity and fellow-feeling are crucial to the enjoyment of life, and one purpose of our Movement is to promote them. Competition between organisations is good and necessary, but exaggerated competition between individuals can destroy a lot of happiness.

Work It is also crucial to people whether they have work, if that is what they want. On average, unemployment reduces a person’s happiness as much as divorce or bereavement. The loss of income is the least part of it – the worst part is no longer being needed. Unfortunately economists normally ignore this part. But it is this part that makes it so important to maintain a high and stable level of employment. That is where the Chicago school of economists have gone so disastrously wrong, by ignoring psychological evidence and arguing that economic stability is unimportant compared with long-term economic growth.

Health. Health, and especially mental health, is also vital for happiness. In Britain, mental illness accounts for nearly half of all disability, and depression interferes with ordinary life 50% more than common chronic physical illnesses like arthritis, angina, asthma and diabetes. Within Britain a record of mental health explains more of today’s misery than is explained by family poverty. [snip] Mental illness should be taken as seriously as physical illness. In Britain 1 in 10 children and 1 in 6 adults would be diagnosed as suffering from depression or an anxiety or conduct disorder, But under a quarter of these are in treatment, compared with over 90% of people suffering from physical illnes

Personal values. A person’s philosophy of life is also crucial. As I have said, people are happier who care more about the happiness of others, while people who constantly compare themselves with others are less happy. Emotional intelligence and good mental practices (including meditation) have measurable impacts on happiness.http://www.movementforhappiness.org/movement-manifesto/

The full article (http://www.movementforhappiness.org/movement-manifesto/)goes into much more detail. Now some of this isn't especially remarkable - but the remarkable thing is that the focus of government isn't more aligned with the provision of a happy society. So, you cynical lot what do you think? :)

Francesca R
29th March 2010, 07:43 AM
The full article (http://www.movementforhappiness.org/movement-manifesto/)goes into much more detail. Now some of this isn't especially remarkable - but the remarkable thing is that the focus of government isn't more aligned with the provision of a happy society.But it is. You get to vote the government in, and if it doesn't make you happy enough it will probably get kicked out. Plenty of public policy is not specifically oriented to income growth. But plenty of the things that correlate with happiness should not (in the view of many) be regulated by governments. You don't need to be a libertarian to have qualms about a Ministry for Happiness IMO.

I've read a few of Layard's books BTW, who has been writing about this for a decade. I'm very sceptical of the idea that measurements of happiness show stagnation since whenever, and/or that this is actually viable information. More likely, I suspect happiness is adaptive and is therefore itself partly a competitive (social), or zero-sum dynamic.

If we're no happier than our grandparents from the 1950s, you should be able to take away our additional income/health/welfare and observe no decrement in reported happiness. Nobody believes that. Conversely, if that did happen (after, say, a major war), then it's quite plausible that after a few years we'd adapt to the onset of relative misery and get back close to our prior equilibrium level of happiness.

LibraryLady
29th March 2010, 07:46 AM
You might want to take a gander at this book (http://www.amazon.com/Bright-Sided-Relentless-Promotion-Undermined-Nonfiction/dp/1410424707/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1269873910&sr=8-1). I'm reading it right now, and it speaks directly to this sort of thing.

Francesca R
29th March 2010, 07:50 AM
I read a review of that one here (http://www.economist.com/world/united-states/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15127034) (might need subscription). Isn't it more in praise of pessimism?

andyandy
29th March 2010, 08:45 AM
But it is. You get to vote the government in, and if it doesn't make you happy enough it will probably get kicked out. Plenty of public policy is not specifically oriented to income growth. But plenty of the things that correlate with happiness should not (in the view of many) be regulated by governments. You don't need to be a libertarian to have qualms about a Ministry for Happiness IMO.

I've read a few of Layard's books BTW, who has been writing about this for a decade. I'm very sceptical of the idea that measurements of happiness show stagnation since whenever, and/or that this is actually viable information. More likely, I suspect happiness is adaptive and is therefore itself partly a competitive (social), or zero-sum dynamic.

If we're no happier than our grandparents from the 1950s, you should be able to take away our additional income/health/welfare and observe no decrement in reported happiness. Nobody believes that. Conversely, if that did happen (after, say, a major war), then it's quite plausible that after a few years we'd adapt to the onset of relative misery and get back close to our prior equilibrium level of happiness.

I think you have a greater faith in our democratic system than me :)

we choose between one of two centre right parties every five years, generally alternating between the two every two-three terms just for a change....this process seems largely divorced from what has happened in the previous few years. I don't think we can rely on the simple fact that we have a vote every 5 years to result in accountability for best practise.....(I can think of a great deal of things which are done despite the best interest of the population - pensions policy, drug policy, PFI etc etc) and i imagine that such sub-optimal policies will continue next term regardless of whoever's in power....

with regards to what can be done by government, i agree a Ministry for Happiness is a little Orwellian...it's not so much about regulation but about being aware of how to improve welbeing and gearing policies towards that. I'd agree that happiness is adaptive - but because it is i don't think you would see a decrease in happiness by collectively removing material wealth - everyone would recalibrate their sense of welbeing around the new norm.

Studies have been done on this which show that happiness is largely removed from materialism. Slum dwellers in Mumbai or City workers in london report a pretty amazing day to day similar level of happiness (I can't find a link to the study online, will keep looking!). What has been found to affect happiness is predominantly

1) social inequality - the envy factor
2) health
3) social inclusion - whether that's being part of a close knit family/group or having a worthwhile job etc etc

materialism has a weak effect, and one of diminishing returns.....

That's not to say that materialism can't make people's lives easier - and of course, Mumbai slum dwellers have a much much harder life than people in the west - but the key consideration is that making people's lives easier doesn't necessarily correlate to making them happier...

andyandy
29th March 2010, 08:50 AM
The Happiness Hypothesis (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Happiness-Hypothesis-Putting-Ancient-Science/dp/0099478897)is an excellent book on the science of positive psychology by psychology Professor Haidt. (5 star Amazon ratings...)

You can read a couple of the chapters online:
http://www.happinesshypothesis.com/chapters.html

Francesca R
29th March 2010, 08:59 AM
I think you have a greater faith in our democratic system than meNot really, since you're the one in favour (perhaps) of having the government try harder to make you happy.

with regards to what can be done by government, i agree a Ministry for Happiness is a little Orwellian...it's not so much about regulation but about being aware of how to improve welbeing and gearing policies towards that.Same thing. Why do you think it's different?

I'd agree that happiness is adaptive - but because it is i don't think you would see a decrease in happiness by collectively removing material wealth - everyone would recalibrate their sense of welbeing around the new norm. That's what I suggested. However if you ask which direction people want to go in, I doubt you'd get symmetrical responses.

andyandy
29th March 2010, 09:08 AM
Not really, since you're the one in favour (perhaps) of having the government try harder to make you happy.

I'm in favour of them doing it, though i have little confidence that they will ;)

Same thing. Why do you think it's different?

regulation implies (to me) a top-down approach - rules and enforcement. This would be much more bottom-up - enabling people to be happier through better policies...

That's what I suggested. However if you ask which direction people want to go in, I doubt you'd get symmetrical responses.

True - but that's because we're brought up in a system which at its core has to persuade people that materialism = greater happiness....

Francesca R
29th March 2010, 09:20 AM
regulation implies (to me) a top-down approach - rules and enforcement. This would be much more bottom-up - enabling people to be happier through better policies...Pardon me, but you sound like Labour/Tory spin product with that. Policies that seek to affect social inequality, health, and social inclusion seem pretty top down to me.

True - but that's because we're brought up in a system which at its core has to persuade people that materialism = greater happiness....Disagreed, societies tried and erred and mostly came to the conclusion that getting richer was much better than subsisting, and was also pretty much aligned with getting healthier and safer too.

Fnord
29th March 2010, 09:26 AM
Legislate happiness? What's next ... "Public floggings will continue until morale improves"?

andyandy
29th March 2010, 09:33 AM
Pardon me, but you sound like Labour/Tory spin product with that. Policies that seek to affect social inequality, health, and social inclusion seem pretty top down to me.

Lol. just because the spin doctors appropriated such a way of speaking doesn't mean that the underlying concept isn't worth doing :D

We can disagree about whether action to enable individual change is top-down or bottom up, the label doesn't matter too much....


Disagreed, societies tried and erred and mostly came to the conclusion that getting richer was much better than subsisting, and was also pretty much aligned with getting healthier and safer too.

Sure at the agrarian subsistence vs western consumerism level you still get welbeing returns from materialism, and capitalism enables greater expenditure on things which actually can improve happiness (like better healthcare) but our western consumer society is built on the myth that greater and greater materialism = greater and greater happiness. Our economy is built on people spending money on consumables. Those companies spend millions to persuade us that buying their product will make us happier. And yet on this level the diminishing returns of consumerism have kicked in to such an extent that greater and greater materialism really doesn't make people happier. Look at the utility curve for buying a car - that first thousand pounds is worth a massive amount utility wise, but when you've got to over £10,000? You're spending massively for neglible utility....

Francesca R
29th March 2010, 10:04 AM
Sure at the agrarian subsistence vs western consumerism level you still get welbeing returns from materialism, and capitalism enables greater expenditure on things which actually can improve happiness (like better healthcare) but our western consumer society is built on the myth that greater and greater materialism = greater and greater happiness.Given what you posted already I would have thought you'd agree it isn't a myth at all. More logically, increases in income still do return greater happiness, but since happiness is adaptive, the reported gain decays. People are still usually pleased when they get a rise (perhaps you turn those down)

Our economy is built on people spending money on consumables.And the medieval economy was built on people farming consumables, and their ancestors' economy was built on people hunting and gathering consumables. Actually a major distinction between Kensington Woman and Stone-age Woman is that the former uses less of her income for consumption than the latter did.

LibraryLady
29th March 2010, 10:57 AM
I read a review of that one here (http://www.economist.com/world/united-states/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15127034) (might need subscription). Isn't it more in praise of pessimism?

I haven't finished the book yet, but so far it is less in praise of pessimism and more in praise of being realistic.

dudalb
29th March 2010, 11:08 AM
Time for chorus of the Ren and Stimpy "Happy,Happy,Joy, Joy" song.
Come to think of it, was'tn that whole episode about forcing somebody to be Happy?

andyandy
29th March 2010, 11:31 AM
Some parts of an article in psychology today....

You think happiness would arrive if you were to win the lottery, or would forever fade away if your home were destroyed in a flood. But human beings are remarkably adaptable. After a variable period of adjustment, we bounce back to our previous level of happiness, no matter what happens to us. (There are some scientifically proven exceptions, notably suffering the unexpected loss of a job or the loss of a spouse. Both events tend to permanently knock people down a notch.)

Our adaptability works in two directions. Because we are so adaptable, points out Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, we quickly get used to many of the accomplishments we strive for in life, such as landing the big job or getting married. Soon after we reach a milestone, we start to feel that something is missing. We begin coveting another worldly possession or eyeing a social advancement. But such an approach keeps us tethered to the "hedonic treadmill," where happiness is always just out of reach, one toy or one notch away. It's possible to get off the treadmill entirely, Lyubomirsky says, by focusing on activities that are dynamic, surprising, and attention-absorbing, and thus less likely to bore us than, say, acquiring shiny stuff.

Yes, Money Buys Happiness—At Least Some Money and Some Happiness
Money does buy happiness, but only up to the point where it enables you to live comfortably. Beyond that, more cash doesn't boost your well-being. But generosity brings true joy, so striking it rich could in fact underwrite your happiness—if you were to give your wealth away.

Happiness Is Relative
Whether or not we are keeping up with the Joneses—a nagging thought known as status anxiety—affects how happy we are. Some are more obsessed with status than others, but we're all attuned to how we're doing in life relative to those around us. To stop status worries from gnawing at your happiness, choose your peer group carefully. Owning the smallest mansion in a gated community could make you feel worse off than buying the biggest bungalow in a less affluent neighborhood.

Options Make Us Miserable
We're constantly making decisions, ranging from what to eat for dinner each night to whom we should marry, not to mention all those flavors of ice cream. We base many of our decisions on whether we think a particular preference will increase our well-being. Intuitively, we seem convinced that the more choices we have, the better off we'll ultimately be. But our world of unlimited opportunity imprisons us more than it makes us happy. In what Swarthmore psychologist Barry Schwartz calls "the paradox of choice," facing many possibilities leaves us stressed out—and less satisfied with whatever we do decide. Having too many choices keeps us wondering about all the opportunities missed.

[snip]

Happiness Hinges on Your Time Frame
Feeling happy while you carry out your day-to-day activities may not have much to do with how satisfied you feel in general. Time skews our perceptions of happiness. Parents look back warmly on their children's preschool years, for example. But Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University found that childcare tasks rank very low on the list of what makes people happy, below napping and watching TV. And yet, if you were to step back and evaluate a decade of your life, would a spirited stretch of raising children or a steady stream of dozing off on the couch each day in between soap operas illustrate a "happier" time? Evaluate your well-being at the macro as well as the micro level to get the most accurate picture of your own happiness. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200812/the-pursuit-happiness?page=3

bruto
29th March 2010, 11:44 AM
One problem here would be, at least here in the U.S., that since a significant portion of the population hates government and all it does or tries to do, any policy intended to promote happiness is virtually guaranteed to make about half the people in the country unhappy whatever it is.

Seriously, I can understand why government would want to understand more about what makes people happy, so as not to step on it inadvertently, but I don't think that becomes the idea that government should make happiness its job.

Here in the states, at least, we're granted the right to pursue it, not to catch it.

rustypouch
29th March 2010, 11:50 AM
Or move to Bhutan, where they have been doing it for years.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gross_national_happiness

SonOfLaertes
29th March 2010, 12:06 PM
The Movement for Happiness has just been launched in the UK....:)

The Joy Ride By James Gunn, anyone? Hard to remember all the details, but it was a sci fi story I read as a teen about a future government based on the science of "Hedonics". They programmed a super computer with the command (something like) "make everyone happy". Their scheme backfired - the computer's ultimate solution was to capture all of humanity and place them in high-tech wombs, filled with fluid, where humanity was to waste away in continual bliss.

I remember thinking that happiness as policy would never be a function of government. Guess I need to re-examine that train of thought. Maybe I can find that short story somewhere in a box in the attic.

andyandy
29th March 2010, 12:18 PM
Given what you posted already I would have thought you'd agree it isn't a myth at all. More logically, increases in income still do return greater happiness, but since happiness is adaptive, the reported gain decays. People are still usually pleased when they get a rise (perhaps you turn those down)

if the reported gain decays then you don't have an increase in long term happiness...

and of course i would take a pay rise - but in the long term would it make me happier? Probably not. Indeed, I would rather do a job i like for £20,000 than a job i hated for £60,000 - so if the pay rise had contingent responsibilities i didn't want I might consider turning it down :)

And the medieval economy was built on people farming consumables, and their ancestors' economy was built on people hunting and gathering consumables. Actually a major distinction between Kensington Woman and Stone-age Woman is that the former uses less of her income for consumption than the latter did.

the difference is that for most of society we have had negligible disposable income - consumables were precisely that - food to live. The consumer society we have today isn't about consuming essentials for survival, or even goods with a large utility value, it is directed at selling goods with a very low utility value increase (compared with cheaper alternatives) in order that business returns greater profits. This is what we are sold - and whether that is clothing, cars or electronics, our whole system is based around persuading you that the new £1000 HD tv is going to make your life so much better, even though your old £200 set isn't going to make you any less happy....

Francesca R
29th March 2010, 01:39 PM
if the reported gain decays then you don't have an increase in long term happinessWell if happiness is adaptive, then you don't increase long term happiness whatever you do, no? Perhaps even if you triple everyone's quantity/quality of sex, after a short while they still revert to previous grumpiness, and moan about weather and train times...

and of course i would take a pay rise - but in the long term would it make me happier? Probably not.Are you saying you'd behave irrationally? I think the act of accepting a pay rise speaks louder than the intellectual rationalisation that maybe you shouldn't. But I might have a stronger belief that people are usually rational

the difference is that for most of society we have had negligible disposable income - consumables were precisely that - food to live. The consumer society we have today isn't about consuming essentials for survival, or even goods with a large utility value, it is directed at selling goods with a very low utility value increase (compared with cheaper alternatives) in order that business returns greater profits.It's really hard to measure utility other than with units such as what people want to pay for it. That's if your point is intended to be economic rather than ethical or political.

This is what we are sold - and whether that is clothing, cars or electronics, our whole system is based around persuading you that the new £1000 HD tv is going to make your life so much better, even though your old £200 set isn't going to make you any less happy..... . . This sounds a bit more political though.

Francesca R
30th March 2010, 12:31 AM
http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2010-03-30/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+DilbertDailyStrip+%28Dilbert+ Daily+Strip%29&utm_content=Twitter

Cactus Wren
30th March 2010, 02:31 AM
I read a review of that one here (http://www.economist.com/world/united-states/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15127034) (might need subscription). Isn't it more in praise of pessimism?

No, it most assuredly is not. It is more an extended snark against

-- The Secret, and the "prosperity gospel".

-- the notion that there's something wrong with a woman who doesn't actively embrace breast cancer as some sort of blessing (she cites a book called The Gift of Cancer).

-- a mindset that regards it as unduly negative to point out that something that won't work won't work.

-- a culture that informs the newly unemployed how utterly wrong they are to regard their situation as anything other than a pleasant and exciting challenge.

There's a very good interview with her here (http://www.democracynow.org/2009/10/13/author_barbara_ehrenreich_on_bright_sided).

Francesca R
9th April 2010, 03:55 AM
Infographic (http://www.good.is/post/transparency-which-countries-are-the-happiest) of world happiness database (http://worlddatabaseofhappiness.eur.nl/index.html)