The politics of happiness

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketLast week I reviewed a book about the happiness ‘problem’ – the reality that although (US) incomes have doubled in the last 50 years, people are no happier. In that book much of the onus for fixing the problem was placed on society. Now I’m a big fan of individual power, but it did get me thinking about the growing interest in happiness at an economic and policy level.

In a recent Sydney Morning Herald article Peter Hartcher cited diverse but compelling evidence of an emerging ‘happiness agenda’ – a push toward making happiness a greater responsibility of the state:

Happiness coverage in the business (!) press
Forbes magazine reported that there’s only a small happiness differential between ‘rich, high-powered business executives’ on $100 million a year and East African Masai people earning $100 a month. And Newsweek magazine observed ‘the momentum toward a “wellbeing state” seems unstoppable’.

Comparison with the environment
Lindsay Tanner (Australian Labor Party finance spokesman and author of Crowded Lives) said happiness and relationships now are where the the environment was during the 70s – starting to become a political issue.

Already on Britain’s political program
Leader of Britain’s Tories (political ‘heir to Margaret Thatcher’, no less) David Cameron is further along, saying ‘It’s time we admitted there’s more to life than money, and it’s time we focused on just on GDP [sic], but on GWB – general wellbeing’.

Enlightened students
The most popular course at Havard is on positive psychology.

The people have spoken
A Herald poll found 77% support for the idea that ‘a government’s prime objective should be achieving the greatest happiness of the people, not the greatest wealth’.

My two cents
Hartcher notes that while the incumbent Howard government* boasts of economic success, opposition leader Rudd seems more in tune with a happiness-themed agenda of housing, child-care and grocery prices. I’m not sure this isn’t still economics, but Hartcher’s point that Rudd is appealing to a population disillusioned by economic growth is well taken.

I think it would be wonderful if happiness figured more strongly in world affairs and public policy. But whatever the politicians promise, make sure being happy is high on your own personal agenda. At least that’s something you can depend on.

*Australia is approaching a federal election. The date is yet to be announced.

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