Today on  “The Daily Politics” programme Lord Layard (a Labour peer and economist) was talking about the movement towards happiness. I found this very interesting as it reinforced some of the ideas I held and giving me food for thought on other ideas.

A rough  graph showing relative incomes showed that the very poor (in an undeveloped country) were low on the graph of happiness, as can be expected, but once a country has reached a certain level of wealth, increase in the rate of happiness does not correlate with the increase in money.

A feeling of happiness is a personal measure, of course, but society can create an ambience conducive to happiness. People are happier when they feel in control of their lives, as demonstrated by the stress induced by losing ones job, family problems etc.

Apparently we claim to be less happy now than we did 50 years ago even though we are a wealthier society. I think this is because we were more optimistic then, and were not being assailed on every side by the wealth flaunted by “celebs”,  bankers, footballers etc. One thing which makes me depressed is hearing youngsters, when asked what they want to be when they grow up, reply, “Famous and rich.”  No mention of how they will achieve this or what career they intend to follow in their pursuit of these aims.

Our parents had aspirations for us to have a better  standard of life, because they did not want us to know the hardship many of them had known in the pre-war years, but I don’t think they expected us to get our lives so out of control that the pursuit of money was the guiding force in our lives. I know that my parents just wanted me to have a career in which I was happy and gave me a decent standard of life. They never expected me to make a great fortune.

The problem seems to be now that we aspire not to any specific amount but just that it is relatively higher than that of our peers. This leads to the greed we have seen with the bankers bonuses, MPs expenses, perks for executives in private industry. It is not the amount they get just as long as it is  more than their peers. They are judged by their position in the pay scale rather than by any personal attributes.

In the drive to get ahead many of them are too blinkered to keep control of their work/ life balance and their relationships suffer. If both partners in a relationship are both rushing towards career goals this can be disastrous, which is possibly why so many marriages and partnerships fail now.

The route to happiness seems to be making people comfortable in their own skins. We need good human relationships, security in our jobs and in our homes, a balance between work and free time and support for those who do not have these.

For those who need it there should be help with chronic anxiety problems and depression. Mental health care has long been the Cinderella of the Health Service, maybe because often there are no visible signs and those with chronic depression are very good at hiding it because they feel it is somehow shameful to admit to it.

Politicians seem to be vying with each other to paint the blackest picture of the future and keep talking about the austerity to come, but, even with the huge debt we are left with after the banking crisis, the country is in much better state than it was in after the war. After the war the country was bankrupt, the housing stock severely depleted by the bombing and most ordinary people had no reserves to fall back on, having had no chance to build up reserves after the depression and unemployment in the 20s andd 30s. Despite all this housing was replaced, the NHS was started and Europe was rebuilt and industries started. Wouldn’t it be more productive to give people an optimistic view and get the country behind them to face the challenge of repaying the debt and giving us a feeling that we can do it if we all pull together? 

Perhaps we would be a happier nation if we counted our blessings and looked at those in the world who are so much worse off, instead of envying those who flaunt their wealth.