On 20th March, Happy City’s Chief Executive Liz Zeidler participated in The BBC’s Big Questions show to debate the topic ‘Does a Nation’s Happiness Matter?’ You can view here.
Assuming the producers prioritise strong disagreement for the sake of spicy and thought provoking debate, it was interesting to see so much consensus when it came to the headline. When it comes to life purpose and the economy there are not many who disagree.
The ‘for’ side was represented by Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales and PhD student Michael Plant. Contesting ‘against’ were Dr Ashley Frawley, author of ‘The Semiotics of Happiness’ and Dr Gideon Calder, lecturer in Social Policy both from Swansea University.
Michael Plant’s studies on the ‘nature and causes of happiness’ made him an easy target for Ashley Frawley with her concerns about ‘diminished subjectivity’ in academic research on happiness. Their contributions showed clearly why policy-makers tend to prefer the term wellbeing to happiness, even though the two are so strongly inter-dependent.
Dr James Treadwell, pitched in to point out how happiness in the UK is explicitly tied to our place in the consumer marketplace, resulting in continuing feelings of failure because consumption requires dissatisfaction. We could scarcely have put it better ourselves. When Liz Zeidler got her moment to speak, she stressed GDP was an important, but subsidiary element of economy, quoting our favourite ‘renegade economist’ Kate Raworth, who said ‘We have an economy that grows whether or not we thrive, and we need an economy where we thrive whether or not it grows’.
Happy City doesn’t really have much of an argument with the ‘against’ team of the day. We whole-heartedly agree with Ashley Frawley’s concerns about bad science and the ‘happiness people’ who mis-sell the reality of things by over-simplifying. We also agree with Gideon Calder’s point about trade-offs and the way increasing selfishness imposes an increasing happiness cost on others.
With happiness correctly defined as collective prosperity in terms of physical, mental and environmental health, it seems we all agree. There is no longer need to ask ‘Does a Nation’s Happiness Matter?’ (of course it does) – instead we can ask more simply ‘What Matters’? Or to put it another way; how can we INVEST In Happy?