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July 17, 2007



I've been out of town and need to catch up, but I will!

Rolf Norfolk

An interesting area. I watched the TV series to which the following link relates, and I think there are indeed immediate, practical things you can do to improve your happiness. No doubt there's more that can be done collectively or politically, but why wait?


Dave Iverson

A friend of mine had lunch recently with Karl Weick (Managing the Unexpected, Making Sense of the Organization, and more). Weick commented, as passed on to me, that "Pessimism is under-rated in our society." So too with "gloominess" or whatever is the opposite of happiness: "unhappiness", "sadness"?

Joseph Campbell suggested that we "follow our bliss." I suspect that in a sense, focusing on "happiness" is similar. But in the universe in which we live, all is the stuff of opposities: to appreciate happiness we must know sadness. "So it goes", as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was prone to say.


There's no way I can do all of the reading, but these two lines:

"Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so" (Mill)

"[Happiness] is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose" (Keller)

seem to ring true for me. It's interesting that you make a post like this, because I've long been in a period of my life where I don't feel happy, yet I can't say that I'm unhappy. I just don't know. Some time ago, I came up with a saying that "happiness is a discipline," or that happiness is not found but made, but I'm beginning to think that this is actually recursive: happiness is what emerges when we go through the process of creating happiness. Does this make any sense?

To get to the government question: I'm not quite sure that one can find good happiness metrics (see the Mill quote), but a focus on GNP is not the best idea, whether that happens in practice or not. I think there are better metrics: how many people are unemployed, and why? How many people are dying prematurely? Etc. Here, I would agree that "[p]oliticians have always sought to achieve many things that are not designed to increase GNP," and it's my hope that GNP doesn't become any more of a target metric than it already is.

Seth Baum

Another interesting read is "Should We Maximize National Happiness?"
The authors are more optimistic about the validity of happiness surveys than I am (and I am more so than the 'mainstream' economists), but they provide some strong arguments about focusing government policy on raising happiness survey results.

That said, it seems reasonable to recommend our governments to factor in the insights these surveys provide into their thinking. However, even on strict utilitarian grounds, I wouldn't want 'happiness' however measured to be the main focus of policy. More on that later...

Great quote list by the way!

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