The following appeared in a recent newspaper written by Richard Layard – Professor of Economics at the LSE. I have truncated the whole article as it was rather long…
WE ARE richer and healthier than ever. Yet there is a paradox at the heart of our lives. Despite decades of increased prosperity, we are not happier. Why? We have more and better food, clothes, cars, and holidays, warmer houses and nicer jobs.
Yet when Britons are asked how happy they are, they report no more happiness now than they did 50 years ago. Despite all. the efforts of governments, teachers, doctors and businessmen, human happiness has not improved one jot.
Not only that, but depression and criminality have actually increased. The Fifties may have been poorer and less comfortable, but the values of the time were more conducive to human happiness. So what has gone wrong? Have we put wealth creation and commercial values too high in the scale and relationships too low?
Well, actually yes. We know this from the new science of human happiness, which” has emerged in the past 20 years, and lets us measure happiness and to explain it.
As you might expect, the new science comes from the U.S. and is led by a Nobel Prize-winning psychologist, Daniel Kalmeman, and a neuro-scientist, Richard Davidson.
It supports the idea that happiness is an objective dimension of experience, namely that when people say they are happy, they are not making a purely subjective statement but are reporting a sensation that corresponds to an activity in the relevant part of the brain. At every instant we feel good or bad, on a scale that runs from misery to bliss.
But what are the key factors affecting a person’s happiness? From the new science we learn what many seem to have forgotten, namely that the top factor affecting your happiness is the quality of your close personal relationships.
Then come your work situation, your friends and your community life. And what about income? Yes, that is there, too, but extra money merely buys a limited amount of extra happiness: So why are we no happier?
In essence, because we have sacrificed relationships in the name of`higher income. We have become focused on personal success rather than the quality of our relationships.
We have also become too individualistic—many now believe that self-fulfillment is the prime goal in life.
One result has been more family break-ups at a massive cost to the happiness of the children and to at least one of the adults Involved. Another has been the diminution of community — of the feeling that the world is a ‘friendly place
People trust each other much less. When people are asked `Do you think that most people can be trusted?’, only 30 per cent say ‘Yes’. Forty years ago, it was nearly twice as many.
But, as admirable as this research is, there is also another reason. People are too envious. They can’t accept that others, through birth or sheer dilligence and hard work, have bettered their lives, owning more material possessions and leading a better lifestyle.
In some countries I have lived in, young lads gathering on a street corner will admire a parked Porshe or Ferrari and say, I must earn more, I want one of those. In London, those same lads depending on their bent, may either ask “Has he left the keys in it?” or take out a knife and run it along the bodywork. Not every time, but it does happen!
I have a rich friend who used to live in Devon. Whenever I came down he used to show off his “toys” to me. Now I am not what anyone would term rich but this friend would say “You are the only person I can show off my possessions to as you never get envious”.
Perhaps, out of all the people I know, I am, or feel I am, the happiest?
I must admit though, even I have felt envious sometimes. I was very envious of Prince Charles. You see, I had found out that one of his Godfathers was Colonel Laurens van der Post, one of my South African “heroes”. How I would have loved to have had access to this brilliant narrator, author and expert of the Kalahari desert. But I am allowed one surely… and it was never anything to do with wealth or personal possessions.
What amuses me is this “working class” business. my late friend was Clem Mitford who then had the title of “Lord Redesdale”. Now he was working class. He ran an advertising agency in High Holborn and worked all hours to keep his staff in employment and, of course, himself.
According to Government statistics there is a large group of, so called, “working class” who lead a life of leisure sponging off really hard working tax payers. Like off you and me, dear reader!