Pursuing Happiness- Richard Layard at The RSA4 min read

Richard Layard at the RSA

Full text of Richard Layard talk about pursuing happiness at The RSA.


I suppose if you asked, what is the goal that you’re offering young people at the moment? it’s basically personal success. Make the most of it yourself. Do as well as you can Compared with other people who got better grades, get a better income.

And of course, if your goal is a comparative one and you look at the effect of that at the level of society, it’s zero sum because if somebody wins, somebody has to lose. And that’s not great for the losers. But it’s actually not great for the winners.

We’ve got from the Gallup World Poll, a quite good series of stress. Do people feel that life is stressful? And in spite of the fact we’re so much richer previous generations, we are also more stressed. And that doesn’t make sense.

So what we need is not a Zero-Sum goal. We need a positive, some goal where we are getting as much as we can of our happiness from not being better than other people, but contributing to their happiness. And that means that for each of us, the goal has got to be in our lives to create as much happiness as we can in the world.

I think that’s a wonderful goal for everybody from the youngest to the oldest. And I think we’ve got a great idea that has been established by modern psychology or reinvented, that the way to make ourselves feel better is to work on changing our thoughts. So because they’re accessible, directly accessible to us, and what we have to do essentially is just we all have negative thoughts constantly is to separate ourselves, find ways of separating ourselves from our negative thoughts and creating space for positive thoughts and positive action. So that’s what modern psychology, positive psychology is telling us. It’s also, of course, what was said centuries ago in the east. And so we are getting also the same message carried on the practice of mindfulness and other Eastern practices, which can also be very, very helpful.

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But I want to talk mainly about the care of others. And, of course, that’s partly in your personal life. But it’s very importantly in your work life.

So, of course, we’ve got to know what are the most important things that affect people’s happiness.

And they are in particular, mental, physical health and human relationships. Family work and community income is also important, but less than those.

And how do I know this?

Because we’ve done a lot of work on it.

So this is from Britain. But actually, we’ve done it for a number of advanced countries. It comes out the same everywhere. The top factor explaining the spread of happiness.

This is a very simple question.

Have you ever been diagnosed for anxiety or depression?

Next is quality of work. Which is also, of course, to do with it, with relationships. And next is your time in life. You’re partnered and physical health than income.

It turns out that the best predictor of whether somebody will have a happy life as an adult is whether they were happy when they were a school child. That’s much more important than the grades they got.

But if you ask what the teachers think they are trying to do, they will all tell you that whether all they want to, they have to focus on getting them the grades.

This is not a good saying. It’s producing a lot of mental stress for young people.

We need to get the wellbeing of the children established as a goal of equal importance as it is in the Netherlands, for example, with academic achievement we need to encourage schools to measure how the school is doing with the well-being of his children to teach life skills weekly.

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Then people go to work. And here’s the shocking fact that the least happy time in the day is guess when? when you’re with your boss.

We’ve got to have managers chosen for their ability to inspire and not just to dragoon. And we’ve got to give workers more control over how their work is organized. And there are good methods of doing that.

Then, of course, this is a community where people live incredibly important to have good services, but also because those good services create social connections which are very important to people’s sense of belonging.

Services for children, as you know, have been cut in our country. Services for youth have been cut. Services for old people have been cut. Benefits have been cut. Of course, even if we got them better, We would still have some mental health problems at work and therapists, it’s very important and it can go beyond depression and anxiety and it should be available, obviously, for children, including behavior problems for children, which are not properly treated at the moment, but also for family conflict, domestic violence, drug and alcohol. These are all psychological problems.

So we need a better society. We need to help people personally as well.

Who can lead the charge?

Well, I’m an economist, and I do think that I actually came to economics later in life because it had this idea. Basic idea is you’ve got to have a clear objective and then you’ve got to think of what you do on the basis of how do you maximize the objective using whatever resources you have. So I think economists can lead the charge, but we need a lot, and getting happiness established is the objective. We need politicians to listen. And of course, we need to have scientists who are thinking about future generations being as important as the present generation.

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So I think we are at the beginning of a happiness revolution. And I think all of us can play a great part, and we’ll get there

Richard Layard

“Pursuing Happiness”- Richard Layard at The RSA