Monday, November 25, 2013

From ‘Happiness. Lessons from a new science’ by Richard Layard

One thing is clear: once subsistence income is guaranteed making people happier is not easy.

What are the factors of our life that make the biggest difference to our happiness? …..
The “Big Seven”
…..Seven factors stand out: our family relationships, our financial situation, our work, our community and friends, our health, our personal freedom and our personal values.

Family Relationships
…people generally become happier as a result of marriage, and this is true of both men and women…. The main benefits of marriage or cohabitation are obvious: you give each other love and comfort, you share resources, gaining economies of scale, you help each other. Married people also have better sex lives on average than single people ….married people are healthier and live longer. Though cohabitation is becoming much more common, it has not so far proved as stable a form of relationship as marriage. …..We need other people and we need to be needed.

We can be needed by our family, but most of us need more than this: we need to feel we are contributing to the wider society. Thus work provides ….an extra meaning to life. ….it is also important that the work be fulfilling. Perhaps the most important issue is the extent to which you have control over what you do. There is a creative spark in each of us, and if it finds no outlet, we feel half-dead.
Community and friends
According to the Greek philosopher Epicurus, “Of all the things that wisdom provides to help one live one’s entire life in happiness, the greatest by far is friendship.” …The quality of our community is crucial for whether we make friends and how safe we feel.
….people can never adapt to chronic pain or to mental illness …..The control of such suffering must be one of our top priorities
Personal freedom
Happiness also depends on the quality of the government. …. people are much happier where they have more rights to referendums.

Explaining differences in happiness between countries
……six factors, closely linked to our Big Seven, can explain 80% of the variation in happiness [between countries]. The factors are the
  • divorce rate
  • unemployment rate
  • level of trust
  • membership in non-religious organisations
  • quality of government
  • fraction believing in God

…Sir Henry Wotton’s description of the happy man, which ends
This man is freed from servile bands
Of hope to rise or fear to fall,
Lord of himself, though not of lands,
And having nothing yet hath all

…..the greatest happiness comes from absorbing yourself in some goal outside yourself. …..when you are so absorbed in what you are doing that you “lose yourself.” …We all have such experiences where we lose our sense of time. And we carry those experiences with us for the rest of our life. They are vital.

Television focuses far more on the extremes. It contains far more violence, sex and chaotic relationships than ordinary life does, and it contains far more wealth and beauty. ….Chaos on the screen tends to desensitize – to make people far more willing to engage in violence themselves and in illicit sex. At the same time wealth and beauty create discontent with what people have – an itch to earn or steal more wealth, or to find a more beautiful partner …..the effect of violence in television upon violence in real life ….To me the evidence is fairly persuasive ….If you expose children to violent films, they behave more violently in the playground ….For example, for two days after heavyweight prizefights in the United States, there is 9% more homicide than otherwise. And after a reported suicide or a suicide in a television drama, more people actually take their lives. …..Television programmes now contain much more violence and more illicit sex than are contained in real life. As a result people who watch more television believe there is more crime in real life and more adultery than there is. They become desensitized to those activities and more willing to contemplate them for themselves. In these ways television, for all its blessings, has contributed in some degree to the decline of family and community life and the increase in crime.

….see it in young children. First they want everything for themselves ….But bit by bit they recognize the concept of the fair share, and it is only on that basis that they make a claim. Interestingly, the trait of conscientiousness has a clear genetic component, being, in the language of geneticists, 40% heritable.

The biggest disease today is not leprosy or
tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of bein unwanted
uncared for and deserted by everybody

…A high-turnover community is rarely friendly. Yet economists are generally in favour of geographical mobility since it moves people from places where they are less productive to ones where they are more productive. But geographical mobility increases family break-up and criminality.
If people live near where they grew up, close to parents and old friends, they are probably less likely to break up: they have a network of social support, which is less available  in more mobile communities. Similarly, if people are highly mobile, they feel less bonded to the people among whom they live, and crime is more common. A good predictor of low crime rates is how many friends people have within fifteen minutes walk. Crime is lower when people trust each other, and people trust each other more if fewer people are moving house and the community is more homogenous. So violence tends to be high where residential mobility is high, and where there are concentrations of people who are new to the area.
…….if we look at the failures of modern societies, high crime is surely the most obvious one. It is linked to low trust …..mental illness is more likely if you live in an area where your group is in the minority.   ….

Most folks are as happy as
they make up their minds to be.

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent

….Ezra Pound wrote, “What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross.”

A Better World: Taking Happiness Seriously
….What should we differently if we shifted our goal towards achieving a happier way of life
  • We should monitor the development of happiness in our countries as closely as we monitor the development of income
  • We should rethink our attitude on many standard issues. On taxes, we should recognize the role they play in preserving the work-life balance. On performance-related pay, we should worry about its tendency to encourage the rat race. On mobility, we should consider its tendency to increase crime and weaken families and communities.
  • We should spend more time on helping the poor, especially in the Third World …..
  • We should spend more time on tackling the problem of mental illness. This is the greatest source of misery in the West …..
  • To improve family life, we should introduce more family-friendly practices at work – more flexible hours, more parental leave and easier access to child care.
  • We should subsidize activities that promote community life.
  • We should eliminate high unemployment….
  • To fight the constant escalation of wants, we should prohibit commercial advertising to children, as in Sweden. We should also cut tax allowances for pictorial advertising to adults by business.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we need better education, including, for want of a better work, moral education.

A society cannot flourish without some sense of shared purpose. The current pursuit of self-realisation will not work. If your sole duty is to achieve the best for yourself, life becomes just too stressful, too lonely – you are set up to fail. Instead, you need to feel you exist for something larger, and that very thought takes off some pressure.

No comments: