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Happiness: Lessons from a New Science Paperback – June 27, 2006
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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 capitalisms 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 Layards 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 Easterbrooks The Progress Paradox *** Mar/Apr 2004), it stands to reason that the early tomes of this philosophy would stir controversy. Just dont let it dampen your day.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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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. (I cannot include the website address in this review, but if you look for Layard's name and "Prime Minister's Strategy Unit," you will quickly find it online.)
This is not in any way a book about how to create more personal happiness. It is instead an interesting attempt to draw up the bare bones of a strategy for increasing the happiness quotient of a country. It rather begs the questions about whether the creation of happiness is a legitimate concern of government. Not long ago there were news reports of one Asian country in which moves were afoot to make happiness not just a right but also a duty!
Nobody wants to pathologize ordinary life, and few would claim that cognitive behavior therapy is the only way to help people in trouble. But the fact that a powerful economist and advisor to the British Government has seen not just the human cost of unhappiness, but also added the dollars and cents that may lead to action is remarkable.
This book is easy to read because Dr. Layard makes simple statements about happiness and footnotes them to refer to proof or comprehensive reference works. You get the quick answer, but can find detailed scientific proof if you want to dig deeper.
Dr. Layard asks the right questions and usually poses logical answers. Most, but not all of his conclusions, are probably correct. In particular, when he calls on the developed nations to help the nations where the people are less happy, it is probably erroneous to conclude that you can raise the level of happiness or the median economic standing of people in countries where the birth rate hovers near the maximum that is biologically possible and the people are proud of it. After 68 years of observing people, I am convinced that if a person or nation is determined to self destruct they can overwhelm any level of help. It may be true that you will be happier if you try and don't get too concerned with the results of your efforts.
I wish our politicians would read this book. I also hope you will read this book. It is likely to make you happier and more aware of the effect of government policies on happiness. I give Dr. Layard's book a 5 because this book has lessons that are likely to stick with you.