Wed, Sep 16, 2009 - Page 9 News List

The only yardstick in gauging progress is happiness

By Richard Layard  /  THE GUARDIAN

There have been objections to this principle, which can be answered. But even some sympathizers prefer the term “flourishing” to “happiness.” Why is this? I fear it reflects a streak of puritanism — that happiness ought to come from some sources rather than others. But in the world’s great literature, people discuss whether they are happy, not whether they are flourishing. When we discuss the quality of life, we should use the words that people use to describe themselves.

In Britain, the US and Germany, happiness has been stagnating for decades. This was one of the triggers for Sarkozy’s commission. But the answer to his question cannot be purely technical. It must be based on the motivations we wish to develop in people: how they want to treat each other, as well as what policies they support. A civilization based on the Greatest Happiness Principle would be a great improvement.

Richard Layard is director of the Wellbeing Programme at the Centre for Economic Performance in London.

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