I don’t much shock, and I never appall, but I confess that this CSM article pushed me to the edge of hyperventilation. The Britsh Conservative Party thinks that learning how to make people happier is the “central political challenge of the era”? What happened to the Iraq war, or suicide terror on the Tube, or even good old-fashioned management of the Exchequer?
“Making people happier,” states the spokesman to David Cameron, Tory chief and prime minister in waiting, “is more important than making people wealthier.”
The scientific buzzwords for happiness are “subjective measures of wellbeing” — SMWs. The great crisis alluded to above is based on SMW measurements: it has been found that, while we have gotten immensely wealthier, our SMW ratings have flat-lined. We haven’t become miserable, mind you — unless, that is, we happen to be Bulgarian, who somehow have a negative percentage of the population owning up to happiness (minus 24). I interpret this to mean that the entire live population of Bulgaria, and many dead Bulgarians besides, feel unhappy.
In the U.S., by comparison, 84 percent say they are happy; in Britain, 87 percent. It’s those last few percentiles who can’t be bribed or bullied into SMW cheeriness that drive David Cameron to despair.
He’ll fix it, too, when he comes to office. Surely government has the solution to unhappiness — who else more competent to deal with private sorrows? The point is made in the article that Brits work too hard — longest workweek in the EU. I suppose Cameron will drive the stock market down and the SMW ratings up, and will become a hero to his countrymen for leaving them jolly, well rested, and poor.
All the experts and politicians cited in the article maintain that everyone else believes happiness can be purchased with money: that wealth, to the greedy and unthinking mob, equals enviable SMWs. But is that true? Saints and sages from Ecclesiastes on have preached exactly the opposite. All is vanity. (Of course, happiness defined as SMWs is a form of vanity — but that’s another matter.)
People make money from the activities they engage in. Such activities are either purposeful or purposeless. In the difference will be found the degree of happiness a person feels. That’s why religious people rate higher SMWs: their lives are purposeful. The same applies to married couples. David Cameron will no doubt hector his secularized constituents back onto the moldy pews of the Church of England, there to be married and live with 100 percent high SMWs ever after.
It turns out that the happiest people on earth are the Icelanders. They live on a treeless, frozen rock, and speak a language nobody understands, but they’re top of the heap, wellbeing-wise. Interestingly, I just watched a TV documentary on Icelandic fishermen. They sat around drinking coffee while it rained and snowed outside, then went out to the ocean in little heaving boats and caught huge, ugly fish while slush and waves fell on them. Then they went back ashore and drank more coffee. They seemed happy.