For most of modern life, the success of a Country or Government has been measured in economic terms such as Gross Domestic Product. Recently there has been a big push by Psychologists and, interestingly, some Economists to include measurements of happiness and wellbeing.
The term “Gross National Happiness” was first heard in 1972, when the King of Bhutan wanted to build an economy around the Buddhist spiritual values of his culture. Now Western Politicians are coming to see that Economics is a product of our thoughts. And so if we are healthier, more productive and positively focused, our economic results will improve more than by just talking about abstract numbers that mean little to most of us.
So here in Britain at least there are moves to create a National Happiness Index and to institute happiness lessons in schools. The other week a friend emailed me a link to a new organisation which launched with huge fanfare, Actions For Happiness. It’s been set up to promote happiness to the public and as a concept to be considered in policy making.
Lord Layard’s Thoughts On Happiness As A Way To Improve Society
The Problem With Actions For Happiness
I agree with their aims. Happiness is the ultimate goal for every Individual and so for every Nation. I agree with their belief that happiness equals the most effective strategy for a better world. Happier people is the quickest and most effective way of creating a happier and also more economically wealthy world.
However there are a couple of things about their whole approach that I fundamentally disagree with.
Firstly, I passionately believe that we are all individual, and have our own path to happiness. One that requires us to actively forge our own path and cannot be prescribed. I appreciate that simple steps allows some people to get started where they otherwise wouldn’t. However much like the original 10 Commandments promoted by Moses, fundamentalists lose sight of the bigger picture and get wedded to the mechanics.
So you get people following literal instructions, but not recognising that it’s not what you do, but the spirit with which you do it in.
Secondly, there’s the Action part. It’s also the area that I diverge from the positive psychology movement.
I love the openness and curious exploration of the scientific approach that holds no sacred tenets. However the problem with science is that it’s view is limited to that which is observable and testable. Research can teach us a great deal and can provide the clues to a clearer understanding of what happiness is. But the art of happiness comes from using that higher level of clarity to make better decisions.
We can test if people are happier when they sing and dance. And if 9 people are happier singing and dancing then most people may become happier by singing and dancing. But that doesn’t mean that singing and dancing will make YOU happier. It means that most people like singing and dancing. And if you are someone that enjoys singing and dancing you will probably be happier when you do that.
But that doesn’t mean that singing and dancing equals happiness. Yet when you pronounce that it is, you make the people it doesn’t work for feel as though there is something wrong with them. And because the list is inaccurate you imply that they are therefore beyond help.
Why Thoughts Are More Powerful Than Actions
Maybe I’m just being pedantic, but that kind of generalisation makes me uncomfortable. Because that’s where philosophies like Communism and Fascism start with the belief that if it’s good for most, the suffering of others is a necessary sacrifice. I believe there is a better but deeper solution if we can go to the root of what causes us to be happier, we can then improve everyone’s lot without any loss to anyone.
It is easy, but misleading to make judgements based on what we see. Actions are the end result of a longer sequence of events. And as every Dieter knows, changes in behaviour are hard to make, take lots of willpower and require many to see a noticeable difference.
Since thoughts precede actions and thoughts come out of a cognitive structure of beliefs and philosophy. I believe it is far more efficient and effective to help people work at the level of understanding and their sense of identity. This way, their actions come more naturally and are organic.
The Belief In Unconditional Happiness
Finally and perhaps the way I differ most from Psychologists, Politicians and Economists. I believe in Unconditional Happiness. I believe that your wellbeing and your happiness is not determined by the luck of the draw. I think that each of us has been put where we are in the world, with the skills and abilities to create for ourselves a happy life regardless of what anyone around them does.
I do not believe that the organising intelligence of the Universe put people in desperate poverty, in situations where they would be persecuted and abused with the idea that the would not be able to transcend their situations and still find a path to happiness.
I have little faith, trust or interest in political interventions. I believe that the best efforts you can make to make a better life and world are under your control, in your inner world.
My point is that true change won’t come from our Governments getting their act together, from the people around us changing or even from changing our actions for happiness, but when we change our thoughts for happiness.
What do you think?