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Happiness: Lessons from a New Science Hardcover – January 27, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Bookmarks Magazine

Reviewers agree that Layard, a leading British economist and well-known government advisor, raises fundamentally important questions that we all tend to ignore in our strivings to achieve on a daily basis. The author supplies ample data to show that capitalism’s emphasis on individualism and competition has helped to diminish the feeling of a common good among people of different classes and societies. The critics disagree, however, on Layard’s recommendation of state- and church-oriented intervention to reverse the patterns of behavior that are not, in so many eyes, contributing to happiness. Since "happiness studies" is a new science (see Gregg Easterbrook’s The Progress Paradox *** Mar/Apr 2004), it stands to reason that the early tomes of this philosophy would stir controversy. Just don’t let it dampen your day.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


Unorthodox, devastatingly straightforward and more provocative of actual thought than 90% of books said to be "thought-provoking". If happiness isn't a political issue, what's the point of politics? -- Andrew Marr A remarkable book ... which effectively trashes the claim of economics to guide policy for a good society ... read it, and take heart -- Simon Caulkin Observer Fascinating ... argues that we should make happiness, not growth, the object of our economic policies -- John Kay Financial Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (January 27, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594200394
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594200397
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #236,567 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

99 of 115 people found the following review helpful By David Eidelman on March 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Richard Layard's book has two parts: (1) The Problem (Why People aren't happier even though income is way up), plus lots of good studies on the subject, and (2) What can be done (To make us happier than we are).

The first part is loaded with great information coming from research studies--what time of day most of us are the happiest, which countries are happiest, the role genes play in happiness, what activities make us happy, how stable happiness has been in the U.S. over time, how jealousy of the income of our peers has on our happiness, and why Jeremy Bentham's concept of maximizing the most happiness for the most people should be the basis for personal and governmental decisions. So far, so good. I totally agree, and found the reading very worth while and educational.
Part two--how to solve the problem of stable instead of rising happiness--is where the book gets into big trouble. Not only does Layard not come up with any down to earth specific suggestions, but he often uses gobbledigook to explain murky solutions. Example: "A society cannot flourish without some sense of shared purpose. The current pursuit of self-realisation will not work...." What exactly this means in concrete ideas, he doesn't make clear--at least, to me. He has oversimplified obvious ideas with no great plans on how to implement them. Example: Unemployment causes unhappiness--so, we need to reduce unemploymnent. Duh!
In other words, Layard appears to be an economist who wants the government to reduce our stress. Since when has the government reduced our stress? That's what I want to know.
If you look at most advanced countries trailing the U.S.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Richard G. Petty on March 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It can sometimes be incredibly helpful for an "outsider" to have a look at a problem. So it proves in this excellent book by Lord Richard Layard, a former Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics, and now an active member of the British House of Lords.

What can an economist tell us about the science and the art of happiness? The answer is a great deal. In 2004 Layard wrote a report - that is available online - in which he pointed out that despite the advances in the economy and in the provision of healthcare, we are no happier than we were fifty years ago. He went on to say that psychological problems and mental illness are amongst the biggest causes of misery. At a time when political action only seems to happen when we can attach a dollar cost and potential savings, he added that human suffering imposes severe burdens on the economy. At the same time we already have good evidence that the tools for dealing with all this psychological distress already exist. In his report he went on to propose that the United Kingdom needs 10,000 new cognitive behavioral therapists to make a major dent in all this suffering. What was different was that he went on to show that this expenditure made good economic sense.

The book is broken into two parts. The first is an excellent review of the factors involved in happiness, as well as a foray into the work of the English Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who believed that personal and societal decisions should all be based on the idea of creating the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. In the second part Layard discusses his report and his prescriptions for action. One weakness of the book is that it does not stand well on its own. His action plan is easier to understand if you have read the report.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Timothy J. Bartik on March 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Richard Layard provides an excellent review of recent research on what determines human happiness. He interprets this in light of his own committment to a utilitarian philosophy, but most of the research findings he reviews, and the policy conclusions he reaches, should be relevant to readers of a variety of philosophical and religious persuasions. For example, page 64 of the book has a facinating table, attributed to research by John Helliwell, which reports that being divorced, rather than married, has about two-and-a-half times the depressing effect on happiness of losing one-third of your family income. Being unemployed, rather than employed, has about three times the depressing effect of a one-third loss in family income. Even if you are employed, if the general unemployment rate goes up by 10 points, this reduces happiness more than a one-third drop in family income. All of these effects consider a change in one factor, holding all other factors constant. These findings are surprising and important to take into account. They are important to take into account even if you reject the claim of utilitarianism that human happiness should be the be-all and end-all of philosophy and social policy.

I should note that Layard is a very well-regarded British economist who has done important work on unemployment issues and benefit-cost analysis of public policies.

I suspect that this may be the only book by an economist that discusses how the Buddhist meditation techniques taught by Jon Kabat-Zinn (for example in his book Wherever You Go, There You Are) affect human happiness in a controlled experiment. It turns out that the "treatment group", which meditated for eight weeks, compared to the control group, which did not do so, when interviewed 4 months after the eight week treatment, were happier by 20 percentile points. This is a very large effect.
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