"Then it is dark; a night where kings in golden suits ride elephants over the mountains." - John Cheever

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Happiness

Just finished this excellent book by Richard Layard, a Professor at LSE and expert on the economics of happiness. Interesting findings about how British/US society has got so much richer in the last fifty years but no happier. A lot of this is to do with rising expectations and status anxiety. His social and personal remedies include: less television, better clinical drugs, more taxation, less inequality, less geographic mobility, more membership organisations, restrictions on advertising, meditation...

6 comments:

john said...

Money causes misery so the government kindly relieves the citizens of it via higher taxation. Bit like Terry Pratchett's Yen Bhuddists who selflessly try and acquire as much wealth as possible for the good of others...

Colin said...

That guy Layard is running an enquiry into the state of childhood in Britain. British kids are the least happy in Europe, apparently. I find this stuff really interesting, but I do think it's quite difficult to build policy around it, as it's quite a subtle and nuanced concept. Also (speaking personally), I think your own state of mind influences how much value you see in these ideas -- there's a receptive market for them among the gloomy pessimists.

Tom said...

Layard's argument is that we are now in a position to make policies around happiness that we weren't able to do 20 years ago. The progress we've made in neuroscience, economic theory and psychology are such that it's now very do-able. We actually know what things make people happy and what don't, and can make policies accordingly.

Of course, there's also a large personal (and genetic) component to this - which can also be treated much more effectively. I say (though Layard doesn't) that it's high time we put seroxat in the water supply.

Tom said...

The state of childhood survey is rather alarming - odd that so many English teenagers say they can't trust anyone. I must say that the education system my children will one day face (league tables, continuous exams, competitive parents, tonnes of homework, junk food school dinners, tuition fees, industry-approved degrees) does seem a bit bleak.

Colin said...

Going back to his recommendations, I think less TV, more membership organisations etc. makes sense. Less geographic mobility is an interesting one.

Tom said...

Mobility is something that affects US more than UK, but the problem is the same: people are least happy when there are low levels of trust and friendship in their community, which is the case in areas with transient populations. I think it partly explains why the rapidly growing commuter towns in the SE and Thames Gateway are so bleak.