Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Zeitgeist

In the last couple of months I've been hearing a lot of seemingly serious talk about Happiness.
The BBC aired a program called "The Happiness Formula", in which Andrew Oswald, professor of economics at Warwick University, argued that advanced western economies should concentrate less on growth and more on the wellbeing of their citizens. A book, "El viaje a la felicidad", was written by Eduard Punset, a renowned Spanish economist, with a happiness formula based on scientific data. A bunch of articles have appeared on a bunch of papers discussing happiness from a "scientific" point of view.
Are we entering a new era in economics or are we just witnessing a serious case of schizophrenia?
I agree with Oswald when he says, "If you're poor, and can't feed your children, theories about the economics of happiness don't matter. But in America and western Europe, a lot of us don't need a TV wider than the one we have, or a third car."
However, as I see it, he is missing the point: the wider TV and the last model car or mobile phone have been wired into modern society's notion of happiness (even if it's ephemeral and leaves a bitter aftertaste).
Well then, is happiness now not what it used to be? What is happiness? Can it be scientifically defined and analysed in Economics? Oswald claims it can. I have my doubts.
I don't think it's enough to say "You don't need that to be happy". I also think that no one (especially not an economist) is entitled to say "You need that to be happy".
After all isn't happiness a most private and individual thing ?

4 comments:

Rauf said...

Happiness has always been the same Claudia, right from day one and through the ages. People have been confusing us with spiritual and material happiness. What we run after and what we want to achieve has always remained the same. There is no difference between a person who is after enlightenment and nirvana and the person who is running after a red ferrari.

Tom Abbott said...

you might be interested in the Warwick Podcast we did with Andrew on this subject: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/audio/?podcastItem=happiness.mp3

Cheers

Tom Abbott

Claudia said...

The podcast is indeed very interesting but I maintain what I said: happiness is a personal thing and it isn't in any way related to any economic variables (in the top half of well off western societies).
We already use personal choice in our personal quest for happiness and as far as I see it this personal choice should not be the object of regulation. For some people it envolves giving up Wednesdays (yes, it's already possible!) to have more leisure time, for some it envolves moving to a house nearer to their job and working longer hours and for some others it envolves swindling or stealing in order to always have more and better cars than the neighbor.

unowho said...

I would like to comment, but I don't have the time...My happinness now consists of just doing my job right.