Why this blog?

Because wherever you are, you can have more happiness and for more of the time than you ever imagined. 'Do more of what you like, and less of what you don't!' (c) Richard Walker, 2009. And because happiness is often misunderstood. "Do you live to work, or do you work to live?" I reckon happy people do both at the same time. Make the decision now to tenaciously seek out what feels good – and find ways of doing more of it - rather than settle for “not bad.” There's a big difference. And when it comes to making changes, that's what I specialise in at abetterlife-uk.com and http://hertscollegeofhypnosisandnlp.co.uk

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Friday, August 2, 2013

Democratic Happiness?

Did you know that David Cameron has been taking his advice from an economist on how to shape government policy around public happiness?

Richard Layard in a professor of economics, and he wrote a book on happiness and how we should achieve it. As you might expect, it is a very rational, logical book. But stop there just a moment – he’s an economist! What would you make of it if a psychologist wrote a book advising us on the economy? Yet his words were strongly heard by the ears of the last government, as well as this. It led to the launch of the national happiness survey by the government’s Office of National Statistics (ONS).

Layard’s BIG IDEA is founded on a principle belonging to the 18th century, and long since discredited. It goes like this:
  1. everything you do should be evaluated solely on the value of the results it produces - in this case, happiness
  2. every kind of happiness, whatever you do to achieve it, is equal
  3. all decisions, all policy, should aim to achieve the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people.
These ideas formed the basis of Ultilitatrian Theory, and the happiness ideas were originally proposed in 1725 by Glaswegian Professor Francis Hutcheson in his work “Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue.” He advocated that the best actions are those that result in the greater happiness of the greatest number. This was later adopted and developed by Jeremy Bentham, with whose name it is most often associated.

As regards the first principle,
Bentham urged us simply to question the usefulness, or utility, of what we do in delivering either “pleasure” or “pain.” Nothing more, nothing less. No Morality. No Ethics. No need to consider consequences for others, the world or anything else. Simply, “feel good, or feel bad?” - Just do it (didn't Nike ads say that?)


Now add the policy that we should aim to maximise this, for the greatest number of people. So if a crowd decide they want to lynch you, it’s fine. The greatest number get the greatest happiness. Are you okay with this? Could it sound just a little like rule by the lowest common denominator? Or mob rule? Some say that’s precisely what democracy amounts to (Plato took this view).

Darrin McMahon, who wrote the superb book “A History of Happiness” said it was potentially dangerous, and could result in sacrificing the few in favour of the many. John Stewart Mill, back in 1863, famously challenged Bentham’s central theme that all pleasure or happiness is equal, arguing that “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied, than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied that a fool satisfied.”

Let’s update it a little. Is the happiness experienced by footballer Wayne Rooney in scoring a goal as valuable as Churchill’s satisfaction over the defeat of Hitler’s Wehrmacht? What do you think? You can easily make up your own comparisons.

In 1843 Thomas Carlyle queried why we have not yet found happiness despite all the promises of the new liberty from control by the church and divine principles. He attacked the Benthamites for failing to deliver their “greatest happiness for all”, and that in fact this policy was achieving the very opposite. Some might say that we are still seeing increasing unhappiness. Statistics seem to support this.

Darwin
, interestingly, explicitly rejected Bentham’s utilitarianism. He argued the  opposite view, “that natural selection produced pleasure only if that pleasurable state induced beneficial actions.” For Darwin, the driving force was group survival and the survival of the happiest, terms which he seemed use interchangeably with the general good.


A final thought: it is an ancient Hindu principle that happiness should always include an element of looking after society, religion, family and your profession, which in turn contributes towards a broader stability in the cosmos, nature, and society. In short, it is a goal of both personal and universal equilibrium, and a very high level and significant kind of happiness. Just an idea to wonder about. 

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