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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Trend: Happiness Decline. The Greatest Gift That We Posses?

The politics of happiness. What is government doing about it! What perhaps should we?

A couple of interesting articles about the science and value of happiness. It’s causes (having over approx $20,000 dollars a year helps it would seem, but more does nothing for you), and things that prevent it (advertising apparently as it make us feel less well off). Interesting that at a time when advertising effectiveness is under increased question, boffins are ascribing it the power to make us less happy –

Interesting, amusing, but also kind of sad and I think if we examine the implication just a little, it might suggest new ways for us as a profession to think about what ‘great work’ should do…

So first up the Happiness Formula….

“In 2002, The Prime Minister's Strategy Unit held a "life satisfaction" seminar in Whitehall discussing the implications of a "happiness" policy.
A few month's later, Downing Street published an "analytical paper" which considered how happiness might affect different policies including:
 A happiness index
 Teaching people about happiness
 More support for volunteering
 "A more leisured work-life balance"
 Higher taxes for the rich”

Fabulous! Sounds like something from Trumpton… However. There are several articles on the subject including this one showing that this idea may not be so fanciful, and people are overwhelmingly in favour…

“In almost every developed country, happiness levels have remained largely static over the past 50 years - despite huge increases in income.
What the happiness research suggests is that once average incomes reach about £10,000 a year, extra money does not make a country any happier.
How does Britain compare?
Our poll asked people how satisfied they were with their lives as a whole using a one to 10 scale.
The mean score was 7.3 which puts the UK some way down the world rankings.
One recent table has Switzerland as the happiest country, followed by Denmark, Sweden, Ireland and the USA. Britain comes eighth.
Many different organisations, including the United Nations, have attempted to compare the happiness rates of different countries.
Should politicians try to make us happier?
In our opinion poll we asked whether the government's prime objective should be the "greatest happiness" or the "greatest wealth".
A remarkable 81% wanted happiness as the goal. Only 13% wanted greatest wealth.”

There are so many layered truths and comebacks on this one depending on your political and cultural grounding. It's pretty facinating and murky given that it seems like it should be such a simple emotion and goal, and is clearly so important in people's lives. Parallels to so much of the work we've done on finance over the years and the double edged sword of more money = more choices / people want choices but yet are often simply pressured by them.


Northern Planner said...

David Cameron is beginning to champion 'wellbeing' as a policy goal. The media seems to think this is funny and is trying to portray as 'fluff';an attempt to hide a lack of real policies. Perhaps he's more in touch with real people than they are. Never thought I'd see that from a Tory!
Same with his stance on environment - not a major issue at the last election, on the two biggest merging issues for normal people.

Lachlan said...

It's certtainly an interesting shift of positions between what I think most would agree is the traditional Labour vs Tory split on this kind of thing!

Mnels said...

I've seen a lot of stuff on the idea of "happiness" lately. I think this is a word or concept with issues. I believe it is a measurement that suffers from the regression to the mean phenomenon. Most individuals have no other context from which to make this subjective distinction other than their sense of how happy most other people are. We may not think our lives are particularly happy, but we will think "hey, I'm at least as happy as the next bloke". And God help us if government tries to get into the "happiness" business. That can't turn out too well. I smell a new special interest group!

El Gaffney said...

it's already hit high-level academia. let's not forget harvard's positive psychology class, which the professor describes as "how to get happy." probably a few gov't majors in that lot of 900 students taking it.

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