Manufacturing happiness

To offset the recession, perhaps it’s time we measured a nation’s success by the wellbeing of its citizens, rather than the size of its economy, says David Servan-Schreiber

At times, the economy resembles our own personal choices. The recession has demonstrated the bankruptcy of a system whose only goal was material gain, betraying fundamental values such as integrity, compassion and justice. The same thing often happens in our personal lives when we place our own material success before our values.

‘Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things,’ said Robert Kennedy during his 1968 election campaign, a few months before he was assassinated in Los Angeles. ‘[Our] gross national product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage… Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play…
It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.’

Today, a group of Anglo-American economists – together with the French economist Patrick Viveret – are urging that the success of our societies should be measured by the wellbeing of their citizens, rather than by their production of weapons or construction of prisons. In studying what really makes people happy, they have come up with precise recommendations – daily behaviours and activities that don’t consume material goods, and which are relatively recession-proof.

1. Connect with others – invest in human relationships. Look on them as the foundations of your life. They will enrich and support
you more and more every day.

2. Be active – find a way to move your body that’s fun and feels good. When the body is active, it manufactures happiness.

3. Sharpen your awareness of the present moment – be curious. Observe what is beautiful or unusual. Savour the moment you’re living in right now.

4. Never stop learning – try something new. Take up singing lessons, tango, cooking, drawing. Set yourself a goal you’d like to meet. Then take the first step in getting there.

5. Give a bit by yourself – do something to help someone. Imagine that your personal happiness is inextricably linked to the happiness of your community. Acitivate the pleasure zones in your brain.

It’s amazing we needed a recession to nudge such simple and timeless values into our social debate. But the Chinese ideogram for ‘crisis’ means both ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’ – right?