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Happiness Debate

Edited by William Davies

The happiness debate ran over the course of 2011, featuring sixteen articles from a range of policy thinkers, academics and critics. It interrogated the underpinnings of the government's new interest in our happiness, reflecting on what this might mean, how happiness is measured, and whether our wellbeing should be a concern for policy in the first place. A highlight of the happiness debate was an interview with Geoff Mulgan, former head of Tony Blair's policy unit, now Director of NESTA and a founder of Action for Happiness. These articles remain a valuable online resource for those seeking to think critically and widely about the emergence of a policy paradigm, which places our mental wellbeing at its heart. 

See Davies' reflections on the debate, written at the conclusion of the series.

Happy now? As Britain prepares to measure 'wellbeing', we conclude our happiness debate

As Britain publishes its first 'national wellbeing indicators', OurKingdom wraps up our debate on happiness. Here, the editor of the debate looks back on the series of articles inspired by the growing interest in happiness shown by politicians, economists, statisticians and psychologists.

The Pursuit of Happiness: Can We Have an Economy of Well-Being?

Happiness is a far more complicated thing to measure than income, but we capture an important dimension of well-being when we look at individual capacity to pursue a meaningful life.

Happiness and Uncertainty

The happiness agenda imagines people as individuals living constantly in the now. But in this age of uncertainty, there is a pressing need to recognise the importance of history, relationships, identity and agency to personal wellbeing

National wellbeing: the ‘personalisation of the public interest’?

Democratic states want to prove their success to their citizens and one way to do this is to incorporate the feedback from them about their 'wellbeing'. Is personalised government about making citizens happy or pleasing the state?

Why Happiness? an interview with co-founder of Action for Happiness

William Davies interviews the co-founder of Action for Happiness to explore the philosophy, politics and economic implications of the happiness agenda

Collective purpose and a sense of belonging: the road to happiness?

What do we need to be happy? The satisfaction of our basic needs? Independence? A positive lifestyle? Yes, says Matt Grist, but we must look beyond the individual towards deeper, narrative forms of happiness

Democratising the well-being movement

The danger of the well-being movement is that it could lead to us being spoon-fed advice on how to live. Yet the art of living may be the most rewarding subject to teach and learn, as long as adults and children are given the opportunity to challenge this advice, and hold it to account

The uses and abuses of 'happiness'

The happiness 'movement' has the potential to transform society, but do its proponents know what they're doing? William Davies sets out four strands of the debate - philosophical, statistical, economical and psychological - and shows how confusion between them is hindering progress

Should happiness be the goal of British arts policy?

How much happiness does spending on the arts buy us? Which cultural pursuits are the most effective? And are these the questions the UK should be asking in formulating our arts policy?

Can we become 'happy citizens' in a climate of insecurity?

We are told that a healthy happy citizen must enjoy "meaning, mastery and autonomy". Cameron's Big Society requires citizens to be innovative and not averse to risk. Yet can we become happy and playful in a climate of economic insecurity?

The Economics of Enough: How to Run the Economy as if the Future Matters

Diane Coyle’s The Economics of Enough is an eerily calm introduction to the severity of our economic situation. While the facts outlined appear to justify an overhaul of our entire political economy, the book leaves us with disappointingly timid proposals for change.

Unhappy? Don’t blame the government, it’s probably your marriage

Marriage is one of the metrics to be included in the Coalition’s soon-to-launch ‘well-being index’, as Clegg and Cameron wave away questions of social collapse to ask, with melting sincerity, if we are truly happy. But how do we measure marital bliss? And is happiness all its cracked up to be?

The Economics of Happiness: a film review

A new film The Economics of Happiness makes an eloquent case for a more localised economic system that forgoes ceaseless increases in GDP and delivers higher levels of wellbeing and even happiness. However, its failure to engage with defenders of GDP, big business and globalisation leave the viewer with a sense of unbalance.

Sharing the Pain: The emotional politics of austerity

“Keep Calm and Carry On” was the post-ironic catchphrase for Phase One of the Financial Crisis. On one level, this was a piece of nostalgic kitsch. However, to truly understand its popularity, we have to consider the ways in which the message - ‘keep calm and carry on’ - expresses perfectly the affective regime through which emotional responses to the crisis of neoliberalism are being organised by powerful forces today.

Psychologised Society: What do we gain and lose from emphasising the individual?

While the Cameroon Conservatives re-draw the state, emphasising the role of the individual, popular culture propagates the myth of the self-made star. Psychology is the zeitgeist - but can society's deep-rooted problems be dealt with on the level of the individual?

Happiness and production

What is progress? Could our societies grow richer but everyone get more miserable? Is output the best measure of a nation's success? Such questions bring OurKingdom and openEconomy together to launch the Happiness Debate, which opens with an essay by Will Davies on the relationship between happiness and production.
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