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Collective happiness: balancing desires and needs

31 May 2011 | David Puttnam

In thinking about happiness, I recently sat down and composed a kind of personal credo. In it, I reflected that as I approach 70 it's become ever more clear that, in the time left to me there are very few things on which I can really focus.

So the question is, what am I prepared to 'die in a ditch' for that would help contribute to our collective happiness? In a sense it's somewhat self-evident:

Firstly, the type of 'informed participatory democracy' that my father's generation were prepared to give their lives to protect and extend.

Secondly, a sustainable environment. That's to say, clean air and water; a sufficiency of nourishing food, and the space and peace in which to enjoy fulfilling lives. If we fail to leave these things to those who follow us, then my generation will be rightly judged an all-but complete failure.

For the past dozen years and more I've lived and worked, if not actually in Government, then at least very close to it. As a result it's clear to me that all Governments, along with most politicians, need to be doing much, much more if we're to avoid the type of future those words of mine warn against. They need to change. They need to change radically - and they need to change fast.

In fact there are far too many politicians who believe their responsibilities involve looking no more than 5 to 10 years ahead, and unsurprisingly it's among these people you find the principle 'climate deniers'. But if you are a genuinely serious politician, and you want to help bring about real change and a greater degree of equity to this world of ours, you have an obligation to be thinking now about 2025 - and even well beyond that.

Unfortunately most politicians - and to be fair most human beings - whilst brilliantly attuned to dealing with emergencies, find tackling long-term, slow burn issues like climate change an altogether different proposition!

Getting people to raise their eyes beyond their immediate concerns of family life; paying the bills and keeping their jobs - especially in challenging times such as those we're living through - is, to put it mildly, very difficult.

Globalisation and its impacts - intended and unintended - is a reality that for good and ill dominates our daily lives. Little wonder then that we find ourselves looking to our neighbours, our localities and our communities to help re-connect us with a sense of belonging and the promotion of personal happiness.

I believe it's incumbent upon all of us to find the means of balancing our short-term personal 'desires' with our long-term collective 'needs'. Equally I believe that, for those who are able to get this balance right, there are some fantastic opportunities out there to be won.

It's not going to be easy to navigate our way through the very many issues that lie ahead; and any 'sunlit uplands' certainly won't be achieved overnight. But with a new found sense of personal responsibility; and a far deeper level of commitment to one another and our communities; I believe that there remains enough good in this world to allow us to achieve a far greater level of collective happiness.


David Puttnam CBE is a film producer and member of the House of Lords. He is a supporter of Action for Happiness.


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