‘Action For Happiness’ Leads Well-Being Movement In Britain

Jill Lawless, Huffington Post
LONDON — Is there a science of happiness?

A growing band of economists, politicians and academics thinks so – and is putting theory into practice by starting a “mass movement for a happier society.”

Action for Happiness launched Tuesday in London, encouraging hugging, meditation and random acts of kindness. It is getting under way as the British government asks statisticians to measure the economically battered nation’s well-being.

The nonprofit group’s founders include a former Downing Street policy chief, Tony Blair’s biographer and an eminent economist. They say happiness – long regarded as the preserve of poets, philosophers and spiritual leaders – is a deeply serious issue.

Co-founder Richard Layard, emeritus professor of economics at the London School of Economics, says the group “doesn’t have any creed or dogma. It’s a secular movement, grounded in science.”

“Our happiness levels have been stuck for the last 60 years,” he said. “Income does not make a lot of difference. The quality of human relationships at home and in the workplace – there are a lot of ways in which those have been neglected in favor of higher income.”
(12 April 2011)

20 Happiness Facts

Action for Happiness
… 4. Economic stability has a large effect on the happiness of society, while long-term economic growth has little. Unemployment reduces happiness by as much as bereavement.

5. People’s happiness can be permanently altered. Surveys show that for many people long periods of unhappiness are followed by long periods of happiness.

6. The most important external factors affecting individual happiness are human relationships. In every society, family or other close relationships are the most important, followed by relationships at work and the community. The most important internal factor is mental health. For example, if we take 34 year olds, their mental health at age 26 explains four times more of their present happiness than their income does.

… 10. Being paid can detract from the pleasure of giving. For example, if people interested in giving blood are divided into two groups, one of which is paid if they give blood and the other is not, more of those who arenotpaid decide to give blood.

… 13. Surveys of mental health in many countries show no improvement and in some cases worsening. InBritainthe proportion of adolescents with emotional or behavioural problems is twice as high as in the 1970s
(April 2011)
Website for the Action for Happiness movement. Nuch more on the website. -BA

Don’t worry, every little thing’s gonna be all right

Stephen Mcginty, Scotsman
… At a time of rising unemployment, job insecurity and the most severe government austerity programme in 60 years, the new organisation is calling on people to pledge to create more happiness in the world and to take positive action to promote happiness at home, at work and in the community.

The organisation has been set up by Lord Layard, a British economist, Geoff Mulgan, the former director of policy under Tony Blair, and Anthony Seldon, the master of Wellington College and biographer of Mr Blair, and comes at a time when happiness will for the first time in Britain be quantified. The Office for National Statistics is devising questions in order to measure the public’s subjective quality of life, with the responses published alongside figures for gross domestic product (GDP).

Action for Happiness had already gathered more than 4,500 individual members from 68 countries and a network of supporting partner organisations ahead of its launch yesterday.

The movement is based on the new science of happiness and the evidence that individuals can influence their own happiness.

… The new organisation has analysed happiness and found that a major component is trust, with the happiest nations those with the highest levels of trust. At the moment the percentage of people who say “most people can be trusted” is only 30 per cent in the UK compared to 60 per cent more than 40 years ago.
(12 April 2011)

Switch off, chip in, be happy, say activists

Olesya Dmitracova, Reuters Life!)
April 12 If you want to be happy, elect your boss, take a break from your mobile phone and give to charity — that’s the advice from a new global movement for happiness whose members include the Dalai Lama.

Action for Happiness was co-founded by Richard Layard, an economics professor at the London School of Economics, and is supported by more than 4,500 members from 68 countries and organisations such as the British Psychological Society.

The movement, set up last year and inaugurated on Tuesday, rejects individualism and the pursuit of material wealth and provides alternative practical tips for a happier life, which it says are based on scientific evidence.
(12 April 2011)

My advice for the happiness lobby? Start with drugs

Simon Jenkins, Guardian
… Yes, folks, happiness days are here again, again. A new campaign called Action for Happiness was launched on Tuesday. It was also launched, I distinctly recall, back in January, and often before by such luminaries as David Cameron, the Dalai Lama, Billy Graham, Dale Carnegie and Aristotle. You can ridicule happiness, bash it on the head, stamp it under foot, but back it comes, smiling cheerily and offering a free cappuccino

… Is there any more to this than “Hullo clouds, hullo sky”? The answer is surely yes. I regard Layard’s basic challenge as perfectly serious, that of a practical economist remarking: “Our living standards are unprecedented and yet our happiness is no higher than 50 years ago.” There is respectable evidence for this claim, which makes me ask why Layard is in bed with so many fruitcakes.

… Research indicates that people are more satisfied with services the closer they are run to their community, as with clinics in Scandinavia or police in Japan. They are happier where they are allowed more personal and neighbourhood autonomy. Yet all British governments, national and local, remain implacably opposed to honouring this satisfaction. They do not trust people to tax and provide locally.

Likewise, there is a clear preference for smallness and intimacy in public institutions. People like small schools and small hospitals. They like their own GPs rather than group practices. Yet every move by government is in the direction of bigness, closing local schools and hospitals and aiming always at regional concentration. The assumption is too glibly made that people want what is big, efficient and cheap, though they are never asked if they might prefer small even if less efficient and more costly. Why not ask what makes them most happy, rather than just less taxed?

The greatest misery caused by the state to the greatest number of people in Britain is, I have no doubt, by the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. It takes a random selection of variably harmful substances and fails to regulate or curb their use, merely criminalising, imprisoning and wrecking the lives of tens of thousands of users, at an enormous personal and public cost.
(12 April 2011)

Britons becoming ‘increasingly miserable’, warns Action for Happiness campaign

Murray Wardrop, Telegraph/UK
A study of the nation’s happiness has identified 10 steps to achieve a life of contentment, warning that Britons have become miserable because they are selfish, unfit, and antisocial.

Research suggests that despite having much more materially than previous generations, the country is no happier than it was half a century ago.

Experts warn that unless we undergo a “radical cultural change”, Britain will slide into unprecedented depths of despair blighted by rising rates of suicide and depression.

A group of eminent British thinkers from the worlds of education, economics and politics – backed by the Dalai Lama – yesterday launched a campaign to halt the nation’s psychological decline.
(12 April 2011)

Happiness has been consumed by capitalism

Nina Power, Guardian
We have been coerced into thinking about quality of life in terms of possessions – it’s time to rediscover those things we value

What is happiness? Although it might seem an inappropriate time to discuss such an obscure and intangible thing – what with rising unemployment, public sector cuts and a noticeable jump in the cost of living – there has been a flurry of interest in the topic recently. Action for Happiness, which has just launched, argues for a “new science of happiness” that focuses on social behaviour and personal relationships, rather than material possessions and outward appearance.

… Professor Martin Seligman, appears to have substantially revised his position, replacing “happiness” (too subjective, too vague) with the idea of “flourishing” (what we need is not a narrow definition of happiness, but a recognition that we are also interested in meaning and justice, and always were).

Seligman is tapping into a long history of thinking about what it might mean to live well, and to achieve certain goals that go far beyond simply the accumulation of material wealth or social status. In recent years, professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago Martha Nussbaum (alongside economist Amartya Sen) has taken up the Aristotelian idea that the goal of philosophy is human flourishing and applied it to immediate questions of global social justice. We are all possessed of certain “capabilities”, she argues, ways of doing and being that we value, and she says public policy should prioritise and enable these, rather than obsessing over GNP per capita as a mark of a country’s “success”
(12 April 2011)

Happy evangelists take on the cynics

Mark Easton, BBC
… we live in the UK, a country which has won gold medals for cynicism, and I am prepared to guess that among the posts which follow this article will be suggestions that there is something deeply un-British and probably underhand about a campaign to spread joy and reduce suffering.

Britain is more distrusting of politicians, the media, public institutions and each other than most other countries. We seem hard-wired to question the motives of anyone who steps into the public arena and so it was no surprise that when I mentioned the Action for Happiness launch to colleagues at the BBC there were more than a few who said they suspected it was all part of some plot by the government to brainwash us out of austerity gloom.

Actually, I think it is far more interesting and ambitious than that. Action for Happiness says it “hopes to inspire a mass movement for fundamental cultural change”. One of its founders, the economist and Labour peer Professor Richard Layard, told me he thought it was needed because of the failure of organised religion to turn back the “tide of narrow individualism”.

He believes the evidence-based principles of the organisation might help deliver the ideals of the Enlightenment, when great British thinkers, including Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart-Mill, were arguing that “the good society is one where there is the most happiness and the least misery”.

The suggestion that happy science offers a more effective route to personal and social wellbeing than religion might be controversial in some quarters, but there is something evangelical about the movement.

… The movement attempts to counter contemporary cynicism with practicality, offering simple ways to give our own lives and those of our friends and neighbours greater fulfilment and meaning.
(12 April 2011)

Action for Happiness: It’s time the right looks beyond its prejudices and understands what this agenda is about

Anthony Seldon, Telegraph/UK
Anthony Seldon, headmaster of Wellington College, explains why he helped found Action for Happiness, a campaign to boost the world’s well-being.

The right in Britain – politicians, commentators and press – is far from happy with happiness. It has given a luke warm not to say cynical welcome to David Cameron’s initiative about making it a target of government policy, and it mostly ignored the launch on Tuesday of the ‘Action for Happiness’, a new national movement designed to promote a happier society, widely reported on the BBC, of which I am a founder, along with Lord Layard and Geoff Mulgan.

To the right, the agenda reeks of reintroducing socialism by the back door. They see all talk of promoting happiness as anti economic growth and anti profit-maximising by companies.

… It is time for the right to look beyond its own prejudices and to understand what this whole new agenda is about, because it will become as important over the next ten years as Thatcherism did thirty years ago. If it could examine it with fresh eyes, the right would understand that this new agenda is supportive of many of the values it holds dear.

Let me give four examples. It is heavily pro-family, and sets about deepening the bonds between husband and wife, parents and children, families and grandparents. It is pro-community. It encourages volunteering, neighbourly and civic responsibilities, and it encourages communities to keep their own environments safe, clean and tidy.
(12 April 2011)

The three Wise Men behind Action for Happiness

Jules Evans, Politics of Well Being
A new movement launched in the UK today, called Action for Happiness…though actually it’s not exactly new. But today was its official launch, complete with lots of media coverage, an all-day happiness event in North London, and a new website, which promptly crashed from excess happiness.

Action for Happiness sounds like a grass roots movement that spontaneously arose from the people like a big Mexican wave of euphoria. But in fact, it could not be more of an insider operation. It is the brain-child of three of the best-connected political insiders of the last decade: Geoff Mulgan, Lord Richard Layard and Anthony Seldon.

Let’s start with Mulgan. He got a first class degree as Balliol College, Oxford, and then went to train as a Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka. That’s unusual. Not many people in British politics have done that. So there’s an intensity there, a monastic focus. However, he didn’t become a monk, but instead returned to the UK and eventually became a serious player in New Labour, first becoming director of policy in Tony Blair’s 10 Downing Street policy unit, then leaving to set up the think-tank Demos.

… So those are the three wise men, all of them combining something of the commissar and the yogi.

… What the three wise men do not have, as of yet, is much popular credibility. Action for Happiness has been around, as a website and a concept, for several months, yet despite all the media coverage they have managed to get, they only have 5,000 followers – only five times what we have in the London Philosophy Club, and we’ve never had a single article written about us. That is the irony of the Action for Happiness movement: it sounds like a popular movement, but actually the whole idea of it is that ordinary people don’t know how to be happy, and have to be told how, by technocrats, apparatchiks, statisticians and political insiders like Mulgan, Seldon and Layard.
(12 April 2011)
Rather snarky and thoughtless. One can write this sort of journalism about any new phenomenon — it means nothing. It’s nice to get the bios of the three founders though. -BA