Society’s highest goal should be to make the greatest number of people happy.
Scientists can now measure happiness.
Seven factors have a significant effect on your experience of happiness and pleasure:
1. “Family relationships” – Married people are generally happier than singles. People whose parents were divorced are twice as likely as other adults to suffer from sadness and depression.
2.”Financial situation” – Forced joblessness, as opposed to voluntary unemployment, affects not only financial security but also self-esteem.
3.”Work” – If your work is too easy, you’ll be bored, and if it’s too difficult, you’ll be frustrated. Although Americans work more hours, on average, than people in other countries, often sacrificing family time and nonwork activities, their productivity is the same as that of workers in other developed countries.
4.”Community and friends” – You’ll be happier if you can rely on those close to you to behave ethically.
5.”Health” – Though bad health can lead to depression, many people can adjust to illness and remain happy. Untreated mental illness is a significant exception.
6.”Personal freedom” – Living in a free and peaceful society is crucial to the pursuit of happiness. The more responsive people feel their government is to them, and the more power lies in their hands, the happier they feel.
7.”Personal values” – Your philosophical approach and spiritual beliefs influence your experience of happiness, no matter what external conditions affect your life.
A “new economics” that incorporates the findings of positive psychology will promote the happiness of the world’s people through the following 3 factors.
1.Competition – Cooperation among businesses and monopolies tends to be detrimental to the greater good. The government should regulate some industries and provide some social services.
2.Information – All parties need easy access to accurate information.
3.Accountability – Businesses must become responsible for all the consequences of their actions. Producing toxic waste is not an “externality”; it damages the community. The measurement of costs and benefits is not simply a financial calculation; human happiness must enter into the equation.
Selfishness does not make people happy.
People feel happy when they are contributing to the well-being of others.
Technological advances have contributed to material progress but have undermined family and community ties.
As you become wealthier, the impact of additional income on happiness decreases.
The more responsive government is to people’s needs, the happier they are.
If public policy began to focus on increasing general happiness, economists would have to factor in the following additional issues:
“Inequality” – A dollar means more to a poor person than to a wealthy one. Augmenting a happy person’s happiness is not the same as deepening a miserable person’s misery, although “by the numbers” economic calculations can’t make this distinction.
“External effects” – Exchanges are not only economic in nature; they have other, less concrete components that affect happiness.
“Values” – Economists conveniently assume that values never change, and so they ignore them. But tastes and values actually do change over time and vary individually. For instance, some people place more value on accumulating money than others.
“Loss aversion” – Oddly, humans generally fear losses more than they value gains. At the same time, they are poor at predicting losses.
“Inconsistent behavior” – Humans react irrationally to phenomena that statistically shouldn’t worry them (because the odds that the events they worry about will happen to any given individual are so low). Most people don’t think very precisely about numbers.
Each person has a characteristic level of happiness to which he or she returns after successes and defeats.
You can change your level of happiness with meditation and spiritual practices.
No motivation is more profound to humans than love.
If you increase the amount of love in the world, you increase the amount of happiness.
House of Lords member and British economist Richard Layard has written several textbooks and is founder of a research facility devoted to economics within the London School of Economics. He worked as a consultant in government between 1997 and 2000.