Wednesday, May 09, 2007

On happiness as public policy

I knew happiness is hot. But I didn't know that it's now on some countries' policy agenda (economists, here's a new challenge for you... or is this not related to economics?). Newsweek gives a report:
Happiness is everywhere—on the best-seller lists, in the minds of policymakers, and front and center for economists—yet it remains elusive. The golden rule of economics has always been that well-being is a simple function of income. That's why nations and people alike strive for higher incomes—money gives us choice and a measure of freedom. But a growing body of studies show that wealth alone isn't necessarily what makes us happy. After a certain income cap, we simply don't get any happier.

Now policymakers are racing to figure out what makes people happy, and just how they should deliver it. Countries as diverse as Bhutan, Australia, China, Thailand and the U.K. are coming up with "happiness indexes," to be used alongside GDP as a guide to society's progress. In Britain ... the "politics of happiness" will likely figure prominently in next year's elections.
But really, can happiness be measured/figured out scientifically? The New York Times recently wrote a long piece on what is happy (Happiness 101). Whole classes on some elite universities are being conducted on happiness, or to train people to be happy(er). One class gave a "distinction between feeling good, which according to positive psychologists only creates a hunger for more pleasure — they call this syndrome the hedonic treadmill — and doing good, which can lead to lasting happiness."

Personally, I like how happiness is portrayed in the recent Will Smith movie The Pursuit of Happyness. I love how Smith pointed out how Jefferson put in life and liberty as basic rights of U.S. citizens, but not happiness in itself. You don't have a right to be happy, but you have a right to pursue it. Maybe because Jefferson knew from then on that happiness means differently for different people.

And I also like how policy makers are getting wiser by considering happiness, as opposed to simply wealth, as a nation's goal.

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1 comment:

  1. Perhaps it's worth noting the origin of the phrase 'the pursuit of happiness'. It's in the Economist 2006 edition. The gist is 'How can you pursue something that is unpursuable'?