Moving towards a happier society
14 Mar 2011 | Positive News
This article was written and published by Positive News.
We can all take positive steps to increase our wellbeing, and a
new organisation, Action for Happiness, is here to help.
"It's not rocket science," says Mark Williamson, director of
Action for Happiness, speaking about what makes us happy. "When
people stop and think about what's really important to them, they
know what that is. Unfortunately lots of us are leading lives which
are not quite aligned with that, and we don't stop and think about
the things that are really important to us until something happens,
like losing a job, somebody dying, or a major crisis," he says.
The people behind Action for Happiness, a new independent
organisation, want us all to think about happiness more. They want
to grow the buzz and discussion about what really makes us happy,
as well as encouraging us to take positive steps to improve our
A non-profit initiative, Action for Happiness was set up last
year by 77-year-old Lord Richard Layard, founder of the Centre for
Economic Performance at the London School of Economics. His
co-founders are Geoff Mulgan, CEO of the prestigious Young
Foundation and Dr Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington College who
has introduced happiness and wellbeing classes into the school
The organisation wants to bring together people from all walks
of life to develop the discussion and take control of their own
happiness. "There are groups of friends in communities already
talking about this subject, some are people having really serious
intellectual and philosophical debates. Then there are young people
doing random acts of kindness, teachers trying out new ideas in the
school curriculum and local authority workers who are thinking
about how to affect mental health in the community," Mark says.
Everyone, from David Cameron to the man on the street can affect
happiness in our world, believes Mark. "Cameron can change policy
and the 'white van man' can change the way he is in his family, or
with his neighbours, or the way he approaches work."
"Our mission is to inspire all these people and enable this move
to a happier society. We want to give them cause for hope and to
promote a more optimistic view of what life could be like. We want
to offer a whole series of actions that people can take to increase
happiness," says Mark, passionately.
Since the fifties we have become three or four times richer as a
society, yet despite that, we are no happier than we were back
then, according to research. "That should be the starting point for
all political discussion and the discussion of how we choose to
approach our lives," Mark says.
In recent years, there has been lots of research on what leads
to positive functioning and positive lives, says Mark, and Action
for Happiness is documenting real human experiences and examples
for people to look at. For instance, earlier this year it worked
with BBC Breakfast to explore what people could do practically in
their daily routines, to increase their happiness. They were
encouraged to do kind deeds for strangers, exercise, and learn
mindfulness (a simple, secular mediation technique) - three of the
key practices the organisation associates with creating happiness.
Participants reported an increased sense of wellbeing.
Mark believes evolution is 'breaking' humankind's selfish gene
to some extent, so that we increasingly get happiness from helping
others. But while genes play a role, they're not the whole picture,
"There's a positive, hopeful, quite empowering message from
research, which shows that although our genes, upbringing and
material circumstances are things that are outside our control in
many ways, there's a really significant proportion of our happiness
- perhaps as much as 40% - that comes from the way we choose to
approach our lives."
So, what does he think a happier society would look like? "To
give a few examples, we'd have more families that are able to bring
children up that feel loved and part of a stable family
environment, an education system that doesn't just prioritise exam
success but helps children develop emotional ability to cope with
what life throws at them, as well as teaches them how to be good
communicators and form effective relationships.
"There would be more people getting involved in their
communities, more focus on holistic health, including an increased
focus on people's mental health. In the workplace, more employers
would realise that if you have a working environment where staff
feel motivated, empowered and trusted, then you get better
There would also be no place for business that didn't serve the
social good, Mark adds. "So for example, a purely speculative
financial transaction that has no underlying product, service or
benefit - there doesn't need to be a role for that. We need a shift
towards what we can do with our economic system to create maximum
wellbeing for people."
Most of us would agree that this vision looks highly admirable
and if we embrace it and see where we find ourselves in ten years'
time, it could be an enlightening, and hopefully a happier,
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