The happiness question

25 March 2011 at 12:43 pm 2 comments

Rebecca Nash writes:

If you’ve been following the ‘happiness debate’, you’ll know that policy makers are increasingly asking if it is potentially a better indicator of social progress than the economic measures represented by GDP. But diving into the happiness sciences you quickly find that it raises as many questions as answers: What is happiness? According to whom? Can it be measured? And if we can measure it, what will the policy response be to unhappiness? What practical steps can be taken to make people happier?

And another question from our end: What does happiness mean to business? Generating happy moods is nothing new to consumer goods manufacturers, where short-term happiness and consumption go hand in hand. But there are a number of potential happiness platforms which business can work from to create more sustainable happiness – building social justice, delivering meaning and value, employee satisfaction on organisational levels, and simply being associated with happiness in its pure form (but beware of ‘happy wash’).

In the research on this which I’m leading for The Futures Company, I’ve become really interested in ‘restoration’ – an approach to happiness which involves making people happy who once were not, and I think it produces challenges that matter to both business and government. When I attended a happiness panel earlier this year at the Institute for Contemporary Arts in London, panellists drew strong links between happiness sciences, psychotherapy, and opportunities to self-repair. Psychotherapist Phillipa Perry advised a laughing audience that, if we want to be happy, we should ‘choose our mothers very, very carefully’. She also gave us tips on how to be happier if early childhood didn’t give us the personal tools we needed for a happy life.

Perry’s take on happiness as something that needs to be re-learned drew some connections for me between what is happening on individual and broader social levels. It reminded me of a recent drivers scan we did for our Government 2020 project, a project on the future of government. One of the most influential drivers of change which emerged – to our surprise – was a trend toward anger, which shaped a few of the future worlds we brought to life. Happiness is more private (although the notion of ‘social wellbeing’ can give it a public face).  Anger is evident and more public, and we’re seeing more of it, more often, in public protest, in generational conflict and in economic frustration.

A key challenge, then, for any organisation taking on happiness, is how to tackle other complex emotions – because as we’re seeing, if happiness goes public, so too can its opposite.

The picture at the top of this post is taken from Stephanie Price’s Borderline Personality blog, and is used with thanks.

Entry filed under: consumers, economics, politics. Tags: .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Stuart Harris  |  7 June 2011 at 12:18 pm

    This is an area of work and research that is rich in potential interest and benefits. However, there are three major obstacles that you allude to in your blog.

    The first is that in public discourse, it’s very difficult to talk about happiness / well-being / flourishing etc. because they sound vapid, they are associated with flakey / hippy / alternative types, and they are seen as spoiled liberal waffle by both conservatives and “left wingers”.

    The second is that happiness / well-being are not high-energy states, and they’re not dramatic. Anger, conflict and dysfunction are – hence the appeal of East Enders and shock! horror! stories in the press – not to mention the likes of Jeremy Kyle et al.

    The third is that the consumer-facing side of business is almost inevitably pushed to play on quick-and-easy feel-good moods of hedonism rather than slow-and-steady work on well-being or eudaimonia. Satisfying those hedonistic naughty-but-nice impulses (“you know you want to”) often works against longer-term well-being.

    I look forward to hearing more of what TFC is doing in this area.

  • 2. 4107ft  |  7 December 2011 at 12:50 am

    […]  http-question/ […]


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The Futures Company blog

The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

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