The thought that happiness/wellbeing is one of the few things that we aim at for its own sake is something philosophers have always agreed on. But happiness as a measure of the good life also appeals to people. In a major survey of university students around the world, most rated “happiness” as the most important thing in life1. Perhaps happiness – in the sense of being well and being content with your life is the most common answer among people on what makes life worth living.
Despite the apparently widespread agreement that people’s wellbeing is an important criterion of the success of a community, a politics that focuses directly on increasing wellbeing has not yet been implemented. When politicians think about welfare they generally think of the economy rather than happiness. But it isn’t certain that more money automatically leads to more happiness. Our happiness is based on several factors besides our financial success.
Given that happiness is something very valuable, it is also important to consider what factors make us happy and how we can work towards increasing the happiness individually, nationally and globally. Within the past few years we can notice a larger awareness about happiness research in the scientific scene and in the community debate thanks to the empirical research about happiness. The amount of published articles regarding happiness is constantly increasing. Several thousands of academic articles have touched on the subject and the result of happiness research has been published in journals as prominent as Science and Nature. Therefore our knowledge about what factors correlate with people’s happiness has increased.
Lately, politicians have started to show an interest in happiness research as an important foundation for decision-making. The devotion of scientists such as Richard Layard, Ed Diener, Daniel Kahneman and Alan B.Krueger has meant their studies are so accurate and reliable that they should be used as important guides in political decision-making. In Great Britain, the Labour party established a “Whitehall Wellbeing Working Group” which comes up with ideas on how to have more happiness minded politics. The president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, has presented an extensive scientific report on how new and better measures on the community welfare could look like. The report that is written by, among others, the Nobel Prize winners in economy Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, end in the conclusion that the economical vision as a measure of the community welfare is incomplete and in some cases misleading They propose that happiness should be considered one of the key factors of community welfare in addition to the economical and social indicators.
Taken together you could say there is a better understanding that people’s experiences of happiness and wellbeing make an important measure of the community welfare. Politicians should take the result of the happiness research seriously and consider what political decisions that give people a better chance to live happy lives.
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- 1. Oishi S, Diener E, Lucas RE. The Optimum Level of Well-Being: Can People Be Too Happy? Perspectives on Psychological Science. 2007 Dec;2(4):346-360.