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Happiness Mapped

23 Sep

The definition of ease

27 May
Ceridwen*M has come up with a classic image of pleasure – skimming stones. What could be more convivial, relaxed? It’s a kind of zen time-wasting activity – both focussed and easy, reminiscent of childhood, and free.

Skimming stones!, originally uploaded by Ceridwen*M.

What makes you happy, or unhappy?

27 May

We’re looking for pictures of things that makes you happy, or make you unhappy – I’m particularly looking forward to the latter – for the Flickr group. It turns out that there are quite a few groups on Flickr that relate to happiness. They contain lots of glorious landscapes and (understandably) many pictures of children and babies. I’ve posted one of those myself. So what’s different about this group?

We’re trying to foster a conversation about what happiness means to us today; both the pleasures of contemporary life – family? travel? sport? nature? – and the things that get in the way of our happiness – lack of money? parenting difficulties? the pace of life? the state of the environment? We can talk about these issues on video in the next phase of the project that starts in July. Meanwhile, images can help identify some of the themes. Feel free to offer babies and landscapes, but my request is for pictures that can contribute to that conversation – that are as down-to-earth and as specific as possible. So go on, get the camera out at breakfast time, or at work, and add a photo to the Flickr group. Be truthful. Let’s show ugly as well as beautiful, and in-between things too.

A Movement for Happiness

31 Mar

“Our society is unnecessarily harsh and full of unnecessary suffering. We can surely move onto a higher plateau, with more happiness and less misery. But two things are needed for this to happen. First, we have to agree that that is the objective. And then we have to use all the available knowledge and all our spiritual strength to get there.” As he just announced in a Sunday Times article, Richard Layard has teamed up with former Director of Policy at No 10 Geoff Mulgan and Blair biographer Anthony Seldon to start a Movement for Happiness to launch in September – the quote above is from the Manifesto. Economist Layard, a Labour peer, has been a major influence on government thinking about well-being. His 2005 book Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, addressed the idea that greater wealth is not apparently making us any happier, and asked how we might “exploit the end of scarcity that science makes possible”. In the Manifesto on the  Movement for Happiness website he writes that while many individuals and policy makers believe that well-being might be a better goal than increased wealth creation, this thinking and activity ” is sporadic and uncoordinated”. The aim then is to create a network of  “like-minded people who share common values and can organise themselves in ways that advance their personal happiness and the happiness of the communities where they live.”  Watch this space…

“The wealthier a country is, the more miserable it becomes…”

15 Mar

” The national belt-tightening expected to follow next month’s budget could prove to be of more benefit to the nation’s sense of well-being than if wealth levels were to soar” – The Observer’s Jamie Doward writes, reporting on an article by economists Curtis Eaton and Mukesh Eswaran in the current edition of the Economic Journal – not unfortunately available online so I’m drawing on Doward’s article for my info here.  Basing their work on the ideas of Thorstein Veblen – who coined the term “conspicuous consumption” back in 1899, they argue that once a country reaches a reasonable standard of living there is no benefit to society in further increasing wealth as luxury goods enjoyed by a few ‘represent a ‘zero-sum game’ for society: they satisfy the owners, making them appear wealthy, but everyone else is left feeling worse off. ”  OK, this seems unsurprising.  But, what’s interesting,  as Doward notes, is that this issue is getting quite a bit of attention right now, with a growing view across politics, psychology and science, that “a focus on individual wealth creation can be divisive.”  In particular it echoes the thesis of last year’s best seller “The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better” by epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, whose analysis of a wide range of health and well-being data showed a stark correlation between inequality and poor mental and physical health outcomes across society.

With the US and UK at the bottom of many of the tables in that book it’s clear we have a problem.  It’s chilling then that Eaton and Eswaran predict that “conspicuous consumption will become worse at time progresses.”