Many of us are feeling that our society has got its priorities all wrong. We live in an increasingly competitive, self-obsessed culture which encourages us to pursue wealth, appearance, status and possessions as a route to success. This is supported by our political and economic systems that are focused on maximising economic growth above all else.
Yet, despite getting much richer as a society, we're not actually getting any happier. For example, the proportion of people in Britain who are "very happy" has, at best, stayed the same since the 1950s, despite the fact that we became three times richer in real terms. Economic growth alone is not enough to ensure social progress.
Worse still, our focus on materialism and self-obsessed individualism is leading to serious problems across society. We've seen huge increases in anxiety and depression in young people, greater inequality, more family breakdown, lower levels of trust, longer working hours, growing environmental problems and crippling levels of debt.
Fortunately it doesn't have to be like this. The good news is that wealth and material possessions are not the most important factors in determining whether our lives are happy and fulfilling. By focusing our time and energy instead on things that have been shown to consistently bring happiness we can live rich, rewarding lives. These things include loving families, close friendships, good self-awareness, strong community ties, helping others, meaningful activities, keeping active, and having a spiritual dimension or greater purpose to our lives.
None of these ideas are new and we instinctively know their importance. But this 'wisdom of the ages' is now also backed up by extensive research from the field of positive psychology, which confirms that these things have a bigger impact on our long term happiness and well-being than our beauty, health, possessions or absolute levels of income.