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The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being Hardcover – February 21, 2010
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One of Fiscal Times Best Books for 2010
"Compelling."--David Brooks, New York Times
"With his clear analysis and outside-the-box ideas, Bok encourages thoughtful consideration of what we should want for ourselves and expect from our government."--Sarah Halzack, Washington Post
"Careful and cogent. . . . Bok believes . . . that the American government, which is in no danger of tranquilizing its citizens, can and should design policies to enhance their happiness."--Glenn C. Altschuler, Boston Globe
"Delving into the burgeoning field of happiness research, former president of Harvard University Bok (The State of the Nation) sifts through scientific studies on how societal well-being indications can and should be used to shape social and political policy. . . . Bok's arguments on how good government, access to education, and adequate child care make for a pleasanter society are incontrovertible, and he initiates an important, jargon-free discussion of American public policy, especially when its aims contradict or diminish the public weal."--Publisher's Weekly
"Bok addresses how happiness research could inform US policy. The first three chapters unpack the claims of happiness psychologists, evaluate reliability and discuss policy application. The remainder address happiness in relation to economic growth, inequality, financial hardship (retirement, healthcare and job loss), suffering (chronic pain, sleep disorder and depression), marriages and families, education and the quality of government. The debate on happiness, Bok concludes, 'will be an accomplishment of enduring importance to humankind'."--Paul Stenner, Times Higher Education
"Mr. Bok's rich, challenging, remarkable new book is remarkably solid. For it is based not on the empty aphorisms so beloved by lazy and second-rate pseudo-philosophers. There is a surprisingly massive quantity of serious statistical and sociological research that has been done on the subject of happiness in both prosperous and developing societies, and Mr. Bok draws liberally and impressively upon it. His conclusions are remarkable and well worth heeding. . . . This is a remarkable, original, provocative and brilliant book. Anyone who wants to be happy, or to share their happiness with others, should snap it up at once."--Martin Sieff, Washington Times
"Bok reviews a wide range of surveys that consistently associate levels of happiness or satisfaction with several demographic and social variables. . . . Bok concludes that the scientific evidence on well-being is now robust enough for politicians to start taking action."--Felicia Huppert, Nature
"[Bok asks] whether governments should really try to maker their citizens happier. Answer: yes, not through promoting economic growth, but through environmental policies, healthcare, and strengthening marriage and the family."--Glenda Cooper, Prospect Magazine
"Provides insights into the mysteries of happiness."--Phillip Longman, Washington Monthly
"Bok, former president of Harvard, outlines the work of 'happiness scholars' and suggests that their findings would be an 'eminently defensible way' of informing public policy, at least as valuable as opinion polls or economic indexes. Among the most significant findings he cites is that an increase in wealth does not correlate with an increase in happiness and that rising inequality has not caused a decrease. From these and other points, Bok argues for many general and specific policy measures that, he believes, would add to the sum of happiness in the United States. . . . Readers will find him in turn provocative and quixotic."--Bob Nardini, Library Journal
"[A] sweeping study of behavioural research and public policy. . . . This is a book that leaders of developing nations obsessed with economic growth will find puzzling and troubling, but not as much as market economists will."--Stephen Matchett, Australian
"Okay, I hear your protests, your gut telling you that Bok is a naïve professor with his head in the clouds. Skeptical myself, I found his book full of surprises. Example: The growing inequality of incomes in the United States has not made Americans more dissatisfied than in previous times. Only one group is upset by this growing disparity--wealthy Americans! See what I mean? Counterintuitive conclusions, like this one, abound."--Mandy Twaddell, Providence Journal
"Relatively light and accessible. . . . Although Bok is partisan, his is a good introduction to the subject. He accurately outlines the findings of the research while questioning its shortcomings."--Daniel Ben-Ami, Spiked Review of Books
"[This] is a careful, helpful book. It brings together the key findings in the area of happiness research--a relatively new discipline of the social sciences that uses surveys and polls to measure well-being. . . . The Politics of Happiness is not a complete answer. . . . It does however, add the methodology and reasoning of modern social science to the profound insights of ancient moral and political philosophy."--Nitin Pai, Pragati, Indian National Interest Review
"Bok explores a number of new studies related to the concept of happiness and then painstakingly asks whether and how government can do much to increase human happiness. . . . The Politics of Happiness raises a number of challenges to our assumptions."--Debbie Bruno, Roll Call
"This book is clear and nicely written and provides a fascinating overview of what does--and doesn't--contribute to the wellbeing of people in the Western world."--Miriam Cosic, Australian
"Bok's summary of the available research is skillful and to the point."--Tevi Troy, Claremont Review of Books
"A book policymakers and people in governance should read. So that there can be more happiness all around."--Vaidehi Nathan, Organiser
"This book offers a fresh look at the surprisingly not-so-elusive quality of happiness and why economic policy can make a difference where it counts. Bok has a smooth and convincing narrative style, and he weighs his arguments carefully."--Maureen Mackey, Fiscal Times
From the Back Cover
"Bok provides a lucid analysis of scientific research on human happiness, and shows how it can and should be used to shape social policy. The breadth of his knowledge is matched only by the depth of his insight. There is not a word in this book to be missed."--Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness
"Derek Bok asks the right question, 'What policies would produce the greatest happiness?' and he gives great and often startling answers, combining his deep knowledge of politics with the new findings of happiness research."--Richard Layard, author of Happiness: Lessons from a New Science
"Consistently fair-minded, pragmatic, and insightful, this is the single best book on its subject to date. Derek Bok confronts the findings of happiness research head-on and does not shy away from pursuing its implications."--Darrin M. McMahon, author of Happiness: A History
"This strong and timely book should have a major impact on how policymakers think."--Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
"Happiness research has principally focused on the factors affecting happiness, while policy implications remain an afterthought. There needs to be a more thoughtful and thorough consideration of these policy implications, and this excellent book is a significant contribution to the subject."--Richard Easterlin, University of Southern California
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Top Customer Reviews
That said, it also has a narrow field of view, which I've tried to delimit in my opening sentence. The focus is squarely on the US and the American political context. The author (DB) doesn't go into detail about different philosophical notions of what constitutes happiness. Indeed, he has a "realist" skepticism about the potential of philosophy to influence politics when the philosophers can't agree among themselves about an issue (see discussion of income redistribution in Chap. 5). Happiness is whatever SSR measures it to be, via "experiential reporting" or "retrospective evaluation" survey techniques. (These terms are explained in the book.) And despite describing possible shortcomings of those SSR techniques and particular studies (esp. Chap. 2), DB has faith in their relevance. E.g., he says that by relying on SSR to inform their decisions legislators would be "relying on persuasive evidence of what *will* make constituents happy instead of accepting what people mistakenly *think* will promote their well-being" (@59; emphasis in original).Read more ›
There are four major findings in this area. First, a country can double its per capita income without experiencing a noticeable change in the average level of happiness of its citizens. Second, people seem to be poor predictors of what will make them happy. In particular, people generally think that more money will make them happier, whereas the evidence is that even very large changes in income (e.g., by winning a national lottery) do not affect personal happiness. Third, increasing income inequality does not lower the happiness of the less-well-off. This is surprising because many had thought that it is the fact that happiness is based on relative, not absolute, income that explains the failure of higher average incomes to entail higher average happiness. Finally, there is no correlation between the fraction of gross national income that governments devote to help the poor and other vulnerable groups, and the happiness of the target groups.Read more ›
This book is the first of three books that I am reviewing this week, the other two are The Hidden Wealth of Nations, which will be a five, and Identity Economics: How Our Identities Shape Our Work, Wages, and Well-Being, probably a five as well, but I continue to be stunned as how people limit their references to the last 10 years when so much has been done that is relevant in the last 50.
This book is not about the politics of happiness. It is more about the possibilities of public administration of happiness.
This will be a long review--apart from the author being one of a handful to truly top-notch minds with a historical memory, the topic is important--much more important than I realized until I starting following unconventional economics (ecological economics, true cost, bio-mimicry, sustainable design, human development and non-financial wealth).
The author opens with Bhutan and its Gross National Happiness (GNH) concept, with four pillars (good governance, stable-equitable social development, environmental protection, preservation of culture).Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
It is a great work of scholarship and research. The bibliography makes it even more versatile for further inquiries. Read morePublished 17 months ago by eugene ares
I loved this book! The field of research is very intriguing. I enjoyed reading Bok's analysis of the relation of happiness to governing a state. Read morePublished on May 16, 2011 by Zachary Connolly
Does it mean a publisher will print whatever you write? This material has been around for years now. Nothing here that has not been observed, written about, and considered. Read morePublished on March 6, 2011 by cosmo
Is happiness a valid goal of public policy and, if so, how can the goal be achieved? These are the core questions that former Harvard President Derek Bok explores in his book. Read morePublished on December 30, 2010 by bronx book nerd
Bok has written an excellent summary of the many true sources of happiness which include: (1) your family and social relationships, (2) freedom to pursue interesting unique... Read morePublished on July 11, 2010 by Andrew T. Fisher
this is most well-informed book out there on the subject of happiness and public policy. While I don't completely agree with his conclusions--I do believe inequality matters... Read morePublished on June 10, 2010 by John de Graaf