Happiness: Lessons from a New Scienceby Richard Layard
There is a paradox at the heart of our lives. We all want more money, but as societies become richer, they do not become happier. This is not speculation: It's the story told by countless pieces of scientific research. We now have sophisticated ways of measuring how happy people are, and all the evidence shows that on average people have grown no happier in the
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There is a paradox at the heart of our lives. We all want more money, but as societies become richer, they do not become happier. This is not speculation: It's the story told by countless pieces of scientific research. We now have sophisticated ways of measuring how happy people are, and all the evidence shows that on average people have grown no happier in the last fifty years, even as average incomes have more than doubled.
The central question the great economist Richard Layard asks in Happiness is this: If we really wanted to be happier, what would we do differently? First we'd have to see clearly what conditions generate happiness and then bend all our efforts toward producing them. That is what this book is about-the causes of happiness and the means we have to effect it.
Until recently there was too little evidence to give a good answer to this essential question, but, Layard shows us, thanks to the integrated insights of psychology, sociology, applied economics, and other fields, we can now reach some firm conclusions, conclusions that will surprise you. Happiness is an illuminating road map, grounded in hard research, to a better, happier life for us all.
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Read an Excerpt
Nought’s had, all’s spent,
Where our desire is got without content.
There is a paradox at the heart of our lives. Most people want more income and strive for it. And yet, as our societies become richer, people get no happier.
This is no old wives’ tale. It is a fact, proven by countless pieces of scientific research. We now have many good ways to measure how happy people are, as I’ll show, and all the evidence tells us that on average people have grown no happier over the last fifty years. At the same time, though, average incomes have more than doubled. This paradox is true for the United States, Britain and Japan.
But aren’t peoples’ lives infinitely more comfortable? Indeed: They have more food, more clothes, more cars, bigger houses, more central heating, more foreign holidays, a shorter working week, nicer work, and, above all, better health. And yet they are not happier. Despite all the efforts of governments, teachers, doctors, and businessmen, human welfare has not improved.
This devastating fact should be the starting point for all discussion of how to improve our lot. It should cause every government to reappraise its objectives and every individual to rethink his or her goals.
One thing is clear: Once subsistence income is guaranteed, making people happier is not easy. If we want people to be happier, we really have to know what conditions generate happiness and how to cultivate them. That is what this book is about—the causes of happiness and the means we have to effect it.
We do not know all the answers, or even half of them. But we have a lot of evidence—enough to rethink government policy and to reappraise our personal choices and philosophy of life.
The main evidence comes from the new psychology of happiness. But neuroscience, sociology, economics, and philosophy all play their part. By bringing them together, we can produce a new vision of how we can live better—both as social beings and in terms of our inner lives.
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co-author, A General Theory of Love
Meet the Author
Richard Layard is one of Britain's best-known economists and a leading world expert on unemployment and inequality. He runs Europe's leading economics research center within the London School of Economics. He worked for the British government as an economic adviser from 1997 to 2001, and in 2000 he became a member of the House of Lords. He is the author of a number of academic books.
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In the past, economists could not measure factors intrinsic to human nature, so they conveniently left concepts like happiness out of their calculations thus they compare the wealth of nations using measures such as the gross national product. But what if, following the example of the tiny Asian country of Bhutan, nations began instead to try to increase their 'gross national happiness'? How would they do it? Economist Richard Layard attempts to answer these questions by applying lessons from the relatively new field of 'positive psychology' to human social systems. Although some readers may dismiss his viewpoint as touchy-feely, it is based on science. He finds, for instance, that if politicians truly wish to create happy societies, they will have to aim at something greater than ever-expanding marketplaces. This readable discussion of the 'new science' of happiness draws some provocative conclusions. We recommend it to those who are interested in self-development and to public policy experts looking for a new approach.
very interesting summaries of many studies but some policy conclusions were false and made me very angry - people should 'hand over some decisions to experts or government,' meaning 'king' economists (144-45) because we're irrational - the more we're taxed the happier we'll be
I think this is a must read for anyone interest in positive psychology, politics, economics, or all three. Unfortunately, the first reviewer admits that she did not finish the book and most the applicable ideas come later on. It is a completely different view of how we should implement public policy. Yes, some of it is quite liberal, but why shouldn't we try to increase the happiness of all in society?
I admit that I did not get further than the end of the 3rd chapter, the overwhelming feeling of a socialistic political view was making it harder to continue reading. I personally do not think the rest of the world and it's problems relate to my overall happiness. As Lincoln said: 'People are about as happy as they make themselves be.'