Sunday, 17 April 2011

The pursuit of happiness?

John Crace:

"When you quantify happiness, you make it prescriptive. There is a right way and a wrong way of being happy. Which rather takes the joy out of it.
The idea of happiness as a process of self-realisation also grates. As if being unhappy somehow puts you further down the karmic food chain and that if you're not happy it's because you're a less worthwhile person. Misery is not always optional and the last thing the miserable need is to be guilt-tripped by the emotionally cleansed.
In a time of spending cuts, I can see the attraction of focusing on the areas of one's life over which one can exercise some control. But this pursuit of individual happiness is a distraction from the real causes of unhappiness.
I'd be willing to bet that the reason the Danes are so happy is because they have less poverty, less inequality and more social mobility, not because more of them are meditating. And poverty, inequality and social mobility can be quantified. Those who set their store by happiness indices, go out and get measuring."

Guardian letters:

Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Osborne have all read The Spirit Level, in which Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett present their research showing that large inequalities of wealth and income within a society damage the social fabric and quality of life for everyone (Happy now? Group that wants to cheer you up, 13 April). However, today's politicians lack the vision and the will to stop dealing with symptoms and instead start addressing the root causes of large-scale unhappiness and lack of wellbeing, ie the reasons we have growing levels of homicide, mental illness, depression, unemployment, drug and alcohol addiction, and the lack of social mobility, all of which are down to the growing inequalities of income and wealth.

John Crace hits the nail on the head in the last paragraph of his article (Taking joy out of happiness, 13 April), which focuses on the "causes of unhappiness". Sian Williams and her colleagues in Action for Happiness would do well to put their energy into lobbying our politicians to tackle the widening gap between the richest and poorest members of our society.
Dr Christina Kadir

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