Economics is actually about happiness? Who knew!

I’ve been reading a lot about happiness lately. Ross Gittins, the economics writer, has written a book on happiness called The Happy Economist. Seems odd, right, someone who makes a living from the dismal science writing about happiness? But he has, and I love the by line “happiness for the hard headed”:


As it turns out, and as Ross points out, economics is actually supposed to be about how to be happy. It is founded on the concept of utility, a faaaancy word for the same idea. But as Ross points out, economics has lost its way. It has come to equate that hoary old chestnut, GDP, as a de facto measure of how a country is doing overall. Essentially, his thesis, as the review in the link above notes, is that a different approach by governments – with less emphasis on economic growth and efficiency, and more on preserving the planet and the social fabric – could add to ‘national happiness’.

Along the way, the book provides Ross’s ten tips for happiness, mostly based on his research and analysis, and a couple on his own take on life. Here is my summary of them:

1. Focus on the human, not the material. (Resolve to nurture your closest relationships)
2. Work on making other people happy, not yourself. (Happiness is a by-product, not something you can attain by pursuing it directly)
3. Seek benefits that are intrinsic, not instrumental.(do things for their own sake, not because of the income or status you think they’ll bring you).
4. Strive for balance. (Work is good,a career is good, family is good, leisure is good. Just a matter of finding the right balance)
5. Cultivate optimism. (Being happy makes you optimistic, and being optimistic makes you happy. It’s not what happens to us that matters so much as how we interpret it).
6. Practise contentment. (And get off the hedonic treadmill – want what you’ve got rather than trying to get what you want).
7. Make habits of gratitude, kindness & giving.
8. Be active. (Happy people have a purpose and goals in life & strive to pursue them).
9. Live in the present.
10. Get back to nature. (Exercise, get adequate sleep, have contact with grass & trees).

This is a great list. And the book is a great read. He has an entertaining and engaging style, and the work is impressively founded in research. Highly recommended!

Greg Vann
October 2014


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