Happiness, Lessons from a New Science by Richard Layard. Part 2

What can be done?

Jeremy Bentham proposed that all laws and all actions should aim at producing the greatest possible happiness (this is reminding me of a Buddhist tenet…). A society, he said, is good in so far as its citizens are happy.


Happiness is the ultimate goal becasue unlike other goals it is slef-evidently good.

To promote the greatest happiness we need to understand what conditions affect people’s happiness and by how much: based on how people FEEL.

The greatest happiness is the right guide to public policy and also the proper criterion for private ethical decisions. When I am wondering what to do, I should seek the happiness of everyone effected, EACH PERSON’S HAPPINESS COUNTING EQUALLY.

But why should I consider anyone’s happiness but my own? The golden rule of the New Testament: Love your neighbour as yourself, and do as you would be done by.

Unless we can widen our sympathies, we may fail to advance our happiness despite our growing affluence: the cancer of envy will eat up all gains.

If we can enjoy the well-being of others, we shall all be happier. We shall help those who can most benefit, and in addition we shall gain by enjoying their success. The Bible says: “It is more blessed to give than to receive”, but in fact both are good.


  1. qualities of happiness – higher and lower forms of happiness : wrong conclusion
  2. paradox of happiness – pursuit of happiness is self-defeating: the only way to become happy is to do something else. In a properly educated world activities include pursuing the happiness of others.
  3. consequentialism – Greatest Happiness principle sacrifices the means to the end. Decisions taken based upon their consequences.
  4. adaptation – principle of Greatest Happiness is inherently pro-poor. We should try to discover what people cannot adapt to, and what they can adapt to.
  5. fairness – the only thing that matters is the feelings of everyone concerned. It is more important to reduce suffering than to generate extreme happiness. Oppression is one of the most potent sources of misery.
  6. expediency – a happy society has to live by rules. People need to honour principles and to find it repugnant to break them.
  7. rights – any human right has to be justified as a way of preventing suffering (or promoting happiness).


I beg to differ: “…nor will we get the same happiness from helping an unknown stranger as from helping our children”. From where does this come from ?? The author does continue “Thus charity begins at home. But as knowledge expands and morality progresses, it should embrace an ever widening circle”

Morality progresses I ask?? when is it going to progress??

Anyway I move on …..

People want to be happy. We have a moral sense, which tells us to consider other people as well as ourselves.


So how should our social life be organised to make us happy?

What is worng is the theory of human nature, which is largely baes on an outdated version of behaviourism. If we cannot know what people feel, we cannot organise things so that they are happy. Psychology has returned to the study of feelings.

  • voluntary exchange: free market e.g. barter . Today most exchange is for money, but the principle is the same.
  • efficiency: result is marvellously efficient; BUT only is 3 conditions are satisfied
  1. market must be truly free .. no price-fixing for e.g.
  2. buyers and sellers must have the same information about what is being sold
  3. each deal affects only the parties to the exchange
  • cost-benefit analysis: benefits and costs ought to be measured in terms of happiness; using money is no adequate substitute as money matters more to some people than to others
  • the national income: a sorry tale – the proper measure of national welfare.  We need to measure the average happiness of the population (adjusted to give extra weight to the least happy); instead Governments currently focus on the national income or GNP in which everybody’s dollar counts equally! Concept was developed in the 1930s (for fluctuations in unemployment). It assumes that a person’s happiness is measurable., like temperature. The real problems with economics are much more profound. Economists have no interest in how happy people are and focus instead on their combines purchasing power, assuming their preferences are constant over time.  5 features of human nature must be included in this new vision of how our well-being is generated:
  1. inequality: extra income matters more to poor people than to rich
  2. external effects: other people affect us indirectly and not only through exchange e..g income, work, family life, community, health, freedom, values
  3. values: our norms and values change in response to external influences. Economists prefer to assume that values are universal and unchanging. Fashions change and so do moral codes. It does not explain happiness.
  4. loss-aversion: we hate loss more than we value gain
  5. inconsistent behaviour: we behave inconsistently in many ways; we fail to forecast future feelings (I just read a whole book about this … Stumbling upon Happiness by Dan Gilbert … priceless), ill-informed behaviour towards risk, simple innumeracy.