Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Greatest Gift That I Possess....

Happiness: what is it and can we get it?

In 1989, when he was acquitted of a charge of tax evasion, it was found that the comedian Ken Dodd (who had a minor hit in 1964 with a saccharine-sweet song "Happiness" ), had never actually paid the kids who played his "diddymen" on stage and that he had suitcases full of banknotes under his bed. We can be reasonably sure what would or does make Mr Dodd happy.

Now to the present and political: our current Prime Minister David Cameron is reported to have ordered an investigation into the levels of national happinesss, presumably so that he can better shape national policy in future...

Ken Dodd (or is it David Cameron?) seeks the Font of Happiness

One of the problems for the investigation of something as nebulous as "happiness" is to find a workable definition and to identify what it is that makes the people and societies "happy".

Unfortunately for Mr Cameron, of the many studies that have been done, from Professor Richard Layard's various studies into depression and wellbeing which were supported by the last Labour Government to The Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett, the clear answer is: not Free Markets or Neo Liberal Economics, which must be a disappointment for the party which believes so strongly in markets, and the freer the better.

The bulk of the evidence, in study after study, shows that, after a certain level, accumulations of wealth and belongings brings no measurable increase in wellbeing to individuals or to societies. This is in direct opposition to the Tory faith in the individual's right to make as much money as possible with no questions asked, and the Tory insistence that "there is no such thing as society".

In fact The Spirit Level has compelling evidence that the more equal a society is, the higher levels of wellbeing are measured in that society.

David Cameron is welcome to his investigation, and to ponder the results when they come. I doubt very much that they will recommend more expansions of "free" markets or the lauding of individualism to the detriment of common cause.

Just where that leaves Conservative Party policy or philosophy is another matter....


  1. They seem to be just as "happy" to waste taxpayers' money on this kind of nonsense as the previous government was, despite the fact that they criticised them for it like there was no tomorrow!

  2. Tris,
    TBH, I'm not convinced that trying to understand the "wellbeing" of the general public is a complete waste of time. I'm just not convinced that the Tories are best placed to absorb the lessons or produce the policies to combat "unhappiness".

    "Free" markets are certainly not the answer IMHO. It is clear that our greater material wealth in the last 40 years has not led to people feeling a lot better about themselves or their lives.

    I would recommend that you should read The Spirit Level (if you have not already done so). It has a wealth of information about a range of matters across the developed world: education, violence, aggression, obesity, health, exclusion, which appear to show that "more equal" societies are more "content" and at peace with themselves.

    Mind you, what it means for policy is another thing entirely.

  3. No I don't think that tryingto uinderstand it is a waste of time either, but I think that having an investigation into it is a bit wasteful.

    Surely it is patently obvious what makes people happy.

    Security, safe environment, decent wages for jobs that are relatively stable, and available, good health care and a safe and decent old age to "look forward" to.

    And i agree that teh more equal teh society, the happier it is.

    So cameron has no chance...