three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
16-May-June-2005
user_rating: 
0

Lessons from a New Science

A-HappinessIf money can’t buy happiness, what can? Layard’s research shows that even though Westerners have increased their standard of living significantly in the past 50 years, our many possessions and luxuries are not making us significantly happier. This book explores the causes of happiness, notably love, satisfying relationships, involving work, community ties, religion, and health. Based on years of research, including that of groundbreaking happiness expert and Nobel Laureate Daniel Hahneman, Happiness reveals how societal pressures to make money, compete, and accrue possessions takes a heavy toll on overall happiness. "A country," Layard concludes, "will have a higher level of average happiness the more equally its income is distributed."
Penguin. 272 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 1594200394

Detroit Free Press 4 of 5 Stars
"Layard culls out a ‘Big Seven’ of factors, five personal and two societal. … Love may not be all you need, but it’s what you need most." Marta Salij

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Taken strictly as a guide through this growing body of research [in comparative sociology of ‘subjective well-being,’ neuroscience, genetics, and psychopharmacology], Lord Layard’s book is impressive. Yet its aim is more ambitious than that." Darrin M. MacMahon

Denver Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Laissez-faire economics, even adjusted for modern times, will not achieve the common good—i .e., the greatest happiness. … [A]nyone, regardless of political persuasion, can benefit from the book’s questioning whether we shouldn’t force ourselves off this ‘hedonistic treadmill’ and actively encourage qualities, such as security and community, which we claim to treasure."
Roger K. Miller

Economist 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Layard] is among a growing group of economists who are dissatisfied with the way that the dominant neoclassical school of economics gauges well-being."

New Statesman 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[I]s Layard right to believe it the proper business of government to make us happy? It is not so much the ambition that chills me as the thought of the heavy-handed and humourless way in which politicians might interpret such a duty." Barbara Gunnell

St. Petersburg Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Layard’s research and analysis confirm some of the worries I have about the direction of this nation. … A large, thriving and optimistic middle class is the best ticket to social stability, but it feels as if no one is looking out for this group anymore." Robyn E. Blumner

Baltimore Sun 2 of 5 Stars
"Happiness is two books, not one. The first, a survey of the latest research on what causes happiness and its opposite, is good. The second, a manifesto for government-induced happiness on a national scale, is terrible." Jay Hancock

Critical Summary

Reviewers agree that Layard, a leading British economist and well-known government advisor, raises fundamentally important questions that we all tend to ignore in our strivings to achieve on a daily basis. The author supplies ample data to show that capitalism’s emphasis on individualism and competition has helped to diminish the feeling of a common good among people of different classes and societies. The critics disagree, however, on Layard’s recommendation of state- and church-oriented intervention to reverse the patterns of behavior that are not, in so many eyes, contributing to happiness. Since "happiness studies" is a new science (see Gregg Easterbrook’s The Progress Paradox 3 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2004), it stands to reason that the early tomes of this philosophy would stir controversy. Just don’t let it dampen your day.

Supplemental Reading

Just Enough Tools for Creating Success in Your Work and Life | Laura Nash and Howard Stevenson (2005): Two Harvard Business School professors argue that our insatiable drive for achievement interferes with our overall happiness. They propose a model for contentment in one’s personal and professional life.