The politics of happiness
Vision, the Italian think-tank, announced the launch of their new programme, called 'The Politics and Economics of Happiness: A New Approach to Existing Problems'.
Is the western civilization suffering a crisis of its own values and should be a concern of politics and states to respond to such crisis? Can happiness be the analytical and communication key to reconsider the political and economic problems that mainstream politics and economic science appear not to be able to address anymore, and for political debates to engage increasingly disillusioned public opinions and young generations?
Can happiness be the key? What is this, a Italian disco track circa 1981? Happiness is the key! Put your hands up for Milan!
It goes on: 'The sort of radical questions we just mentioned are not new'. Well, then they're not very radical either. Hell, even Babar was discussing the politics of happiness, back in the 1930s, when he had a vision of bringing about a new political order in which all suffering would be banished from the state of Celesteville:
Anyway, the paper goes on:
Could the happiness paradigm better account for better distribution of welfare among different places (different countries, different segments of the population) and different times (different generations) giving a more concrete political sense to the 'sustainability' of progress?
Come again? I don't think that paragraph gives a 'concrete political sense' of anything, other than that Vision is trying to jump on the creaky happiness bandwagon, in order to get some nice EU funding. Now there's the secret of happiness: EU hand-outs. Oui! Encore une fois!
Anyway, in fairness, the paper raises one interesting question, which I don't expect the gathered beard-strokers of the think-tank to answer in a meaningful (or even legible) way, but it's a good question nonetheless:
Is the 'clash of civilization' also a clash between a weakening and still dominating vision of the world [ie Enlightenment values of tolerance, rationality, trust in science and technology, and a belief in progress] and one that may be more traditional, more spiritual and even fundamentalist...and yet, more adequate to our times?
What the politics of wellbeing/happiness/resilience (or whatever) at its best is trying to do, is find a middle way between rampant secular consumer materialism and religious fundamentalism. It's trying to find a way that Enlightenment values can be brought into some kind of synthesis with more 'spiritual' values (actually, these 'spiritual' values aren't exactly older. Liberalism pre-dated Stoicism, Christianity and Islam by several centuries).
I think cognitive behavioural therapy is an important bridge because it combines the Enlightenment's emphasis on scientific evidence and rationality with the insight of ancient spiritual traditions (particularly Buddhism and Stoicism) with regard to learning to control the self and its appetites, and becoming more centred, grounded and responsible people.
It would help, however, if policy makers admitted that the psychological therapies they promote (particularly CBT) do actually derive from older spiritual traditions. At the moment, policy-makers like Lord Layard, who is a utilitarian, insist very loudly on the evidence-based, secular aspect of CBT, without accepting or admitting to its derivation from Stoicism and Buddhism, because they are afraid that, if they do so, western secular governments will not give it their backing.