Psychology Magazine

The Origins of Happiness

By Deric Bownds @DericBownds
A MindBlog reader pointed me to this presentation, at this year's Davos World Economic Forum, on the subject of what government actions (in a European context) might be most relevant to fostering the wellbeing of citizens.
As Thomas Jefferson once said, “The care of human life and happiness… is the only legitimate object of good government”. But...well being will only take off when policymakers have numbers that tell them how any change of policy will affect the measured well being of the people, and at what cost.
..The right definition [of well being], in our view, should be life satisfaction: “Overall how satisfied are you with your life, these days?”, measured on a scale of 0 to 10 ..That is a profoundly democratic concept because it allows people to evaluate their own wellbeing rather than have policymakers deciding what is more important for them and what is less so...policymakers like the concept – and so they should. Work in our group at LSE shows that in European elections since 1970 the life satisfaction of the people is the best predictor of whether the government gets re-elected – much more important than economic growth, unemployment or inflation.
The article then proceeds with tables and statistics showing that the big factors in determining life satisfaction are all non-economic (such as whether someone is partnered, and especially how healthy they are). The biggest feature distinguishing the miserable from the happy is mental illness, and the authors' analysis shows that funds directed towards mental health are much more cost effective (with respect to increasing well being in the population) than those directed towards reducing poverty or unemployment, or improving physical health.

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