Wellbeing and Happiness - an introduction


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This presentation was given by Mark Williamson, Director of Action for Happiness on Tues 23 Aug 2011.

It was part of a British Council workshop on the theme of Wellbeing involving young social and political activists from the UK and the Middle East.

It gives an overview of why wellbeing is important and the political context, summarises some important recent scientific findings relating to happiness and suggests some actions that governments and individuals can take to help create a happier society.

Published in: Health & Medicine, Technology
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  • You are very right. I myself have created a seminar entitled A New Thinking, it is a concept of creating positive outlook in life, created from within - mind and emotion.

    I wrote down 'having' and 'being' and GREAT DREAM and the 2 conditions. Please give me a copy of this slides, you can e-mail to alex_elvis71@yahoo.com
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Wellbeing and Happiness - an introduction

  1. WELLBEING AND HAPPINESS Prioritising the things that really matter Mark Williamson Director, Action for Happiness
  2. Agenda 1. Why wellbeing matters 2. What the science tells us 3. What we need to do about it
  3. How do we measure our progress as a society? <ul><li>Currently GDP growth is treated as the main proxy for societal progress </li></ul><ul><li>Competitive markets are seen as the most efficient means to deliver improved quality of life </li></ul><ul><li>Government’s role is to correct market imperfections and to remove barriers to growth </li></ul>
  4. But higher GDP doesn’t always mean greater life satisfaction Source: Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2008 GDP/person (Purchasing Power Parity, 1995 dollars) Life Satisfaction / Happiness (Mean of % very happy and satisfied with life as a whole) GDP and Happiness: comparing countries
  5. Countries have been getting richer but no happier Source: Layard, 2003 (based on US data) GDP per capita ($, 2001 prices) Year Life Satisfaction / Happiness (% very happy) Changes in Happiness and GDP over time 100 80 60 40 20 0 1946 1951 1956 1961 1966 1971 1976 1981 1986 1991 1996 % Very Happy GDP per head
  6. Real progress is being undermined by wider social issues <ul><li>Improvements in: </li></ul><ul><li>Absolute income </li></ul><ul><li>Living standards </li></ul><ul><li>Labour Mobility </li></ul><ul><li>Deterioration in: </li></ul><ul><li>Income equality </li></ul><ul><li>Mental Health </li></ul><ul><li>Social cohesion </li></ul>The net effect of these (and other) changes is that ‘progress’ has not translated into greater levels of life satisfaction
  7. We’ve known for years that GDP is flawed… Robert F. Kennedy (1968 speech) “ Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising , and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage . It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl . It counts the television programs which glorify violence to sell toys to our children. “ Yet it does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage , neither our wisdom nor our learning … “ It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile”
  8. There has now been a big shift in mainstream thinking In 2008, Nicholas Sarkozy asked eminent economists Stiglitz, Sen and Fitoussi to create a “Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress”. <ul><li>The commission made recommendations in three main areas: </li></ul><ul><li>Improvements to existing measures of economic activity, GDP etc </li></ul><ul><li>(e.g. give more weight to distribution of income/wealth not just average values) </li></ul><ul><li>Shifting measurement emphasis from economic production to wellbeing </li></ul><ul><li>(e.g. include objective and subjective measures of people’s wellbeing) </li></ul><ul><li>Take into account sustainability , to include an assessment of future wellbeing as well as current wellbeing. </li></ul>
  9. The UK is now taking the lead in measuring well-being “ It’s time we admitted there’s more to life than money, and it’s time we focussed not just on GDP but on GWB: General Well-Being. Well-being can’t be measured by money or traded in markets. It’s about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture and, above all, the strength of our relationships” David Cameron UK Prime Minister
  10. But are measurements of subjective well-being valid? Source: R. Davidson (2003) <ul><li>Subjective levels of happiness reported by people are very meaningful and have been shown to correlate well with objective measures of brain activity </li></ul><ul><li>They also correlate with independent reports from friends, obvious causes (e.g. unemployment) and subsequent behaviour (e.g. quitting a job, getting a divorce) </li></ul>Examples of measured brain activity Positive emotion Negative emotion
  11. Wellbeing questions are now being asked in UK surveys <ul><li>Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays? </li></ul><ul><li>Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday? </li></ul><ul><li>Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday? </li></ul><ul><li>Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile? </li></ul>Questions now being asked by ONS to 200,000 people in UK each year to assess levels of subjective well-being Evaluation of overall life satisfaction Experience of positive and negative feelings Eudemonic sense of meaning and purpose Source: UK Office for National Statistics (2011)
  12. Agenda 1. Why wellbeing matters 3. What we need to do about it 2. What the science tells us
  13. 1) Happiness leads to better health and longevity Source: Ed Diener et al (2011) <ul><li>A review of more than 160 different studies has found “clear and compelling evidence” that happy people experience better overall health and live longer than their less happy peers </li></ul><ul><li>Anxiety, depression, pessimism and a lack of enjoyment of daily activities have all been found to be associated with higher rates of disease and shorter lifespans </li></ul>
  14. 2) Relationships and connections matter most Source: Layard (2011) <ul><li>The most important external factors affecting individual happiness are human relationships </li></ul><ul><li>In every society, family or other close relationships are the most important, followed by relationships at work and the community </li></ul>
  15. 3) Mental health is vitally important Source: Layard (2011), UK National Child Development Study <ul><li>Good mental health is absolutely vital for our overall well-being </li></ul><ul><li>For example: if we take 34 year olds, their mental health eight years earlier (i.e. at age 26) explains four times more of their present level of happiness than their income does </li></ul>
  16. 4) Income inequality is a significant driver of unhappiness <ul><li>Index of: </li></ul><ul><li>Life expectancy </li></ul><ul><li>Maths & literacy </li></ul><ul><li>Infant mortality </li></ul><ul><li>Homicides </li></ul><ul><li>Imprisonment </li></ul><ul><li>Teenage births </li></ul><ul><li>Trust </li></ul><ul><li>Obesity </li></ul><ul><li>Mental illness </li></ul><ul><li>Social mobility </li></ul>Source: Wilkinson & Pickett, The Spirit Level (2009) How income inequality relates to health and social problems Income inequality High Low Worse Better Index of health and social problems
  17. 5) Our levels of happiness are not set in stone Sources: S. Lyubomirsky; R. Davidson <ul><li>Although our genes and circumstances affect our well-being, a significant portion of our life satisfaction comes from our conscious choices and behaviour </li></ul><ul><li>Neuroscience research shows that happiness is the product of skills that can be learned and enhanced through training, thanks to the neuroplasticity of our brains </li></ul>
  18. 6) Our emotions are contagious across social networks Source: Fowler and Christakis (2008) <ul><li>How happy or unhappy we are affects the people we know and the people they know </li></ul><ul><li>An extensive longitudinal study has shown that our emotions can affect the happiness across three degrees of separation (i.e. the friend of a friend of a friend) </li></ul>
  19. Agenda 1. Why wellbeing matters 2. What the science tells us 3. What we need to do about it
  20. How do we create a society with high levels of wellbeing? People and organisations need to behave in a way that improves wellbeing (their own and others) Government needs to create the conditions for people to flourish +
  21. What can government do to maximise wellbeing? Provide security, freedom, law & order Ensure economic stability and low unemployment Provide good healthcare with focus on mental health Support families and relationships Help children develop capabilities to thrive Reduce inequality and support those most in need
  22. Well-being is multi-dimensional “ HAVING” “ BEING” Trust Security Equality Economic conditions Family & Community Employment Mental health Physical health Meaning & Purpose Infrastructure Financial Material Physical Social Psychological Emotional Source: Action for Happiness We need greater focus on social, psychological and emotional dimensions
  23. GREAT DREAM: Ten Keys to Happier Living Ten Keys to Happier Living based on a review of the latest scientific research relating to happiness:
  24. Ten Keys to Happier Living: part 1 (GREAT) * These five are based on the Five Ways to Well-being developed by nef for the UK Government Foresight project on Mental Capital. The first five keys (GREAT) relate to how we interact with the outside world in our daily activities*:
  25. The second five keys (DREAM) come more from inside us and depend on our attitude to life: Ten Keys to Happier Living: part 2 (DREAM)
  26. About Action for Happiness <ul><li>Action for Happiness is a movement for positive social change, made up of people and organisations committed to building a happier society </li></ul><ul><li>The movement aims to trigger a cultural shift where people care more about each other and prioritise the things that really matter </li></ul><ul><li>It was launched in April 2011 and already have over 17,000 members from over 100 countries </li></ul>
  27. Join us at: www.actionforhappiness.org facebook.com/actionforhappiness @actionhappiness youtube.com/actionforhappiness <ul><li>Please get in touch if you want to find out more [email_address] </li></ul>