Happiness update

In: Daniel In The News

10 Jun 2007

I have come across so much on happiness in the last few days that I will have to resort to relaying it in bullet point form:

* Happiness debate in the Financial Times. Martin Wolf, the chief economics commentator of the Financial Times, had a belated review of Richard Layard’s 2005 book on happiness published in Wednesday (“Why progressive taxation is not the route to happiness” 6 June). A particularly interesting point he made was that the attack on happiness can be seen as a challenge to modernity itself. Developments such as improvement in life expectancy, the liberation of women from household drudgery or easier divorce do not increase reported happiness.

Two book hitters in the happiness debate replied to Wolf with letters. Layard says that there are some aspects of modernity that should be ameliorated. He gives levels of trust as an example. Meanwhile, Andrew Oswald, professor of economics at the University of Warwick and well-known happiness advocate, makes the familiar point that reported happiness has not increased over time in the rich countries over the last few decades. He goes on to state: “That graph could usefully be pinned up in every minister’s and president’s office”. Why he thinks it should be such a decisive argument is not clear.

* Debating Andrew Oswald at Debating Matters. Talking of Oswald, I will be debating him at the national final of the Debating Matters competition in London on June 29. We will both be “expert witnesses” debating whether happiness should be a goal of national policy. Later on the same motion will be debated by the high school students who are taking part in the competition. In conjunction with the discussion the Debating Matters team has produced a useful topic guide for the debate. (Last year I debated John Hilary of War on Want on globalisation at the same event).

* Quoted in Financieele Dagblad. Yesterday I was also quoted on the happiness debate in a substantial feature in the leading Dutch financial daily newspaper by Esther van Rijswijk. I am hoping to get it translated.

* Paradox of Prosperity essay republished. My spiked essay on the “paradox of prosperity” is to be republished by the Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India. The organisation is publishing a book in its professional reference series which is provisionally entitled: Prosperity Index: Assessing Growth Anew. It is due out in November.

* Happiness expert website. Ruud Veenhoven, one of the world’s leading experts on happiness, has a website: here. Evidently he also argues that a “paradox of prosperity” does not exist.

* Parenting-happiness link. A parenting expert made the point to me yesterday that the debates on happiness and parenting are linked. The likes of Oliver James argue there is a clear link between women not looking after children and the outbreak of “affluenza” in society.