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Happiness: Lessons from a New Science

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There is a paradox at the heart of our lives. We all want more money, but as societies become richer, they do not become happier. This is not speculation: It's the story told by countless pieces of scientific research. We now have sophisticated ways of measuring how happy people are, and all the evidence shows that on average people have grown no happier in the last fifty years, even as average incomes have more than doubled. The central question the great economist Richard Layard asks in Happiness is this: If we really wanted to be happier, what would we do differently? First we'd have to see clearly what conditions generate happiness and then bend all our efforts toward producing them. That is what this book is about-the causes of happiness and the means we have to effect it. Until recently there was too little evidence to give a good answer to this essential question, but, Layard shows us, thanks to the integrated insights of psychology, sociology, applied economics, and other fields, we can now reach some firm conclusions, conclusions that will surprise you. Happiness is an illuminating road map, grounded in hard research, to a better, happier life for us all.

320 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2005

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About the author

Richard Layard

54 books34 followers
Peter Richard Grenville Layard, Baron Layard FBA, is a British labour economist, currently working as programme director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics.

His early career focused on how to reduce unemployment and inequality. He was Senior Research Officer for the famous Robbins Committee on Higher Education. This committee's report led to the massive expansion of UK university education in the 1960s and 1970s.

Following research on happiness begun in the 1970s by economists such as Richard Easterlin at the University of Southern California, he has written about the economics of happiness, with one theme being the importance of non-income variables on aggregate happiness, including mental health.

His main current interest is how better mental health could improve our social and economic life. His work on mental health, including publishing The Depression Report in 2006, led to the establishment of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme in England. He is co-editor of the World Happiness Report, with John F. Helliwell and Jeffrey Sachs.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 94 reviews
Profile Image for Nicole.
18 reviews13 followers
April 5, 2007
First half: somewhat faulty science whose flaws were mildly offensive to my sensibilities. Example: a study of nuns showed that 21% of those most cheerful died in the following nine years, compared to 55% of least cheerful nuns. Layard claims this "shows how happiness can increase a person's life." How naively speculative to assume causality between these two variables!! Perhaps the nuns were happy for the very reason that they were healthy. Or maybe an outside variable (having family members visit to care for them) caused both correlations. The whole thing was silly and but one example of the flaws of the first half. Still, vaguely interesting, although not nearly as well-written as Daniel Gilbert's "Stumbling Upon Happiness" on roughly the same topics.

Second half: PAINFUL PREACHY PROPAGANDA on how to be happier. Layard discourages teachers treating religious ideas as "interesting topics for discussion" and advocates presenting them as "established truths." In his disucssion of cocaine, he snarkily refers to nicotine as "more gentle - it kills the body, not the soul." Had I not been reading this for a class, I would have thrown it across the room. UGH. In short: exactly what I feared might happen as I ventured into the self-help section to buy this last week.
Profile Image for Katie.
157 reviews43 followers
May 22, 2020
Layard is a follower of Bentham, and believes that human happiness is of paramount importance to society and to individuals themselves. In the introduction, Layard writes that the aim of the book is to "hasten the shift to a new perspective, where people’s feelings are treated as paramount."

So what is happiness? Layard's answer is thus: "Happiness is feeling good, and misery is feeling bad." Surely there's more to it than that? No - happiness is shown by ‘good feelings’ and is linked to the right side of the brain, with the left linked to ‘negative feelings’. Layard again states that it is ‘essentially correct’ to say that happiness is a state of ‘feeling good’. Such pleasure-seeking philosophy is suitable for the pigs, as Mill and Carlyle understood: “To suppose that life has no higher end than pleasure—no better and nobler object of desire and pursuit—they designate as utterly mean and groveling; as a doctrine worthy only of swine.”

Regardless, Layard's intentions, at least, are noble. So what of his methods?

He cites a couple of studies to support his hypotheses - in one, young nuns who reported greater feelings of happiness lived for longer. In another, actors who won oscars lived, on average, for four years longer than their nominated counterparts. Rather than an in-depth exploration of correlation and causation, Layard simply triumphantly writes that this phenomena is explained simply by "the gain in morale from winning".

I disagree with his focus on happiness over eudaemonia, but I lost respect for his 'new science' through the laziness and sloppiness of its most basic assumptions and arguments. There are far better and worthier works on utilitarianism that deserve your focus in lieu of this poor introduction.
Profile Image for Wera.
62 reviews2 followers
May 5, 2022
It took me a very long time to finish this book. There are some good ideas about reasearch on happiness and I certainly believe that it is very necessary to continue studying this field but I found the book a bit too boring. I really liked the first and last chapters, but those in between were too much for me. Yet, the conclusion are quite interesting and I agree with most of them. There were some interesting results and conclusions from different studies that made it worthwhile.
Profile Image for Realini.
3,280 reviews71 followers
February 7, 2017
Happiness- Lessons From A New Science by Richard Layard

Another version of this note and thoughts on other books are available at:

- https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list... and http://realini.blogspot.ro/

This is a Fantastic book.

It touches so many aspects of happiness that I am in awe.
From Bhutan to the Academy Awards Winners.
From taxation to teaching morals in schools.

The different indicators that make the differences in well being levels between countries are revealed.
They are:

- Levels of trust
- Proportion of people belonging to social entities
- Unemployment figures
- Divorce rates
- Quality of government
- Religious belief

Alas, we have a government that is rightly called "The Red Plague"
And looking around the world to the likes of Trump, Erdogan, Fillon, Putin, Maduro, Duterte, Xi and their buddies it is likely that happiness levels will be affected in those lands.

Status is important for life satisfaction and...life expectancy.
Civil servants tested in the UK have had different levels of cholesterol and other important parameters.

Those in important positions, with higher status lived four or five years longer than the others, who were lower in the hierarchy.

And a strange fact:

Academy Awards nominees have been looked at.
Those who won the Award went on to live longer, four years more than the others who had been nominated but lost.

Bhutan is an interesting, exceptional case.
Their king has decided to look at the Gross Happiness Level and not at the GDP.

Alas, this happened in 1999, but one year later he has decided to allow television and public advertising.
After that, levels of aggression and conflict have risen steeply.

This was confirmed in studies made in remote regions of Canada, after the introduction of television.

The author is right in saying that information would be excellent, but ads make people want things they don't need.

And then the rat race is a plague upon our houses.

The example of the Dalai Lama might be revealing

He went into a big department store and said something like:

Wow, so many things that I don't need.

Or the other story of the Mexican fishermen visited by entrepreneurial Gringos...

- Why don't buy another fishing boat?
- What for?
- Well, to expand
- And then...
- You can buy a few more
- So...
- Make money and then retire near the beach and play with kids and grandkids...
- But we are doing that already

Layard is of the opinion that taxes might work.
First of all, one reason for unhappiness is the huge gap between those at the top and the rest.

Then excessive work might need to be taxed, so that people find a better balance...maybe like the Mexican fishermen?

Fabulous, extraordinary masterpiece.
Profile Image for Brian.
186 reviews
January 14, 2013
This book was pretty interesting. Layard is an economist and he talks about how it would seem better for nations to use a measure of happiness as a marker of progress rather than gross national product. He does a good job of evaluating the science of happiness (enough to satisfy my rather critical eye) and concludes that we can now measure happiness well enough in a meaningful way. The book ranges from the science of happiness, to the economics of producing happiness, and to the spiritual aspects of happiness (getting into meditation, etc.). A pretty well rounded review! I found some of its most thought provoking points to be how "relative" happiness is, and how that needs to be considered in public policy and in personal decisions. In the most basic example, raising the income of a poor person creates much more happiness than raising the income of a wealthy person by the same amount. If raising average income is our goal, then either option is viewed the same. In a somewhat related vein, we personally habituate ourselves to current lifestyles and comfort of living, making it so that we are continually seeking improvements and constantly comparing ourselves to others to assess our standing. Often we seek improvements through material things, which unfortunately are the things that we habituate to most quickly. Other things like friendship we seem to not habituate to, and thus may be more productive investments for happiness! The book also touches on the unfortunate phenomemon of the rat race at work and how frustrating this can be to everyone's happiness. The author proposes some solutions which I found interesting if not exactly likely in today's society. More than a blueprint for public policy, I found this book valuable for making me more cognizant of what makes me happy and highlighting some concepts to consider as I go about my life.
Profile Image for Ruth Baker.
Author 4 books6 followers
August 22, 2013
This is an I retesting book and pulls together the science and politics of happiness relatively well. It has an economics slant which is interesting but peculiarly emotionless given the subject matter. The philosophical side is based on Jeremy Benthams utilitarianism which I think is greatly flawed. His comparison with both Buddhism and Christianity is not well presented and doesn't exactly misinterpret those two religions but doesn't show the same understanding as the social, political and economic theories out forward
10 reviews
June 6, 2008
A book on the economics of happiness, that is mistakenly placed under psychology. Plainly - economists tend to be clumsy when counting happiness, and Layard gives us some tools to count correctly. In sum, love brings happiness. Money does, but not much past a middle class amount. We tend to compare ourselves to our neighbors.

Lots of neat little psychological truths about how we make economic decisions. For people who want to learn about economics but don't want the math.
Profile Image for Holly.
121 reviews21 followers
November 7, 2008
so far I really like this! Yes, part of my grad program - this week's topic: Taking Happiness Seriously.

I should send this book to my ex-husband. he thinks fun and happiness are utterly unimportant.

* * * * * *

Interesting - don't agree with everything, but written by an economist - so - what can I expect? However, he's moving in a good direction I think.
Profile Image for Dark-Draco.
2,112 reviews40 followers
April 12, 2020
This was truly not what I was expecting ... and not in a good way.

In the current Covid-19 crisis, I thought this might be the perfect book to pick up. I wouldn't usually touch 'self-help' books, but the back page blurb promises it discusses ways to stay cheerful so I thought it might be worth a try.

But this is isn't that sort of book.

The author is an economist and so his ides and theories are completely from that point of view. Not to say that they weren't interesting, but I did have to double check when this book was first published and was gobsmacked to see 2005 - some of the attitudes I would have put in the 60's. For instance, the brief discussion about changes in gender roles only talks about how women go out to work and it effects the family life so much - men are only mentioned as being made unhappy by the decrease in attention they have from their wives!!!! Huh!!!!

Sadly, the whole book feels like a good example of being able to manipulate statistics and quote scientific articles to back up your own opinions. I don't really have a huge problem with that as some of what this guy says is interesting and food for thought - just don't take it all as the gospel truth.

And if you are looking for exercises to help yo help improve you're own happiness - blink and you'll miss them. There's one short chapter, that mainly discusses Buddhist teachings and little else, before he quickly skips on to how drugs can help instead!

So read it for comparison but keep your mind open and read something else to help improve your mental health.
Profile Image for Jens Rinnelt.
40 reviews3 followers
January 12, 2019
Refreshing to see that an economist suggest we should use happiness instead of money as an indicator for prosperity.

Richard Layard lays out seven causes of happiness from family to financial situation or income, work, community and friends, health, personal freedom, and personal values.

Based on scientific research the way for us to become more happy is to engage in a goal that is outside of ourselves. Taking part in the ongoing rat race and our human obsession for status prevents us from becoming happier. In other words: the world is too selfish. Or in the words of Layard:

“For our fundamental problem today is a lack of common feeling between people – the notion that life is essentially a competitive struggle”

A must read for everyone that wants to be more happy.

More insights on my blog:

Profile Image for YeJi.
303 reviews11 followers
November 13, 2017
I was looking for a happier read after All Quiet on the Western Front then found this on my shelf. Although it isn’t what I expected it to be, I found it enjoyable to read through the economics principles that I have studied at school. Many of the papers were ones that I have already read, so the material wasn’t completely new to me. Richard Layard has researched a lot for this book, and it shows. He cites different papers to make a cohesive and well-rounded argument. Some parts of this non-fiction are dry, and I wish there were more case studies incorporated into this book.
Overall, I was happy to find a read that discusses happiness on economic terms, and refresh my memory on a lot of the subjects.
Profile Image for Chad.
186 reviews1 follower
July 10, 2018
Interesting summary of the research on happiness with some very strong opinions on how to apply it. I was a bit troubled by his assertion that mobility is bad for happiness, because research shows that when we live in communities with more "others"--those not like ourselves--there is more mental illness and crime. That's the last thing we need to hear in today's world. However, I do like his assertions that we can do more to educate youth on emotional intelligence, empathy, relationships, etc. I also like his assertion (clearly pushing back on the US economy) that increased work and productivity doesn't ultimately make us happier.
Profile Image for Chris.
54 reviews
February 17, 2021
Went into it thinking it'd be about the personal things we can do, but as Layard is an economist, a huge portion of the book was about classical v. behavioral economics and what government's role should be in increasing happiness. To be clear: this focus is a good thing, as it provides a blueprint for the types of actions governments can take. I just wasn't clear that it would be as much of a focus of the book as it was. A really solid read in conjunction with other works on Positive Psychology .
Profile Image for Maria Beck.
51 reviews
October 20, 2017
Denna bok berättar om den underliggande vetenskapen till många av LYCKANS teser, varav en understryker vikten av att sluta jämföra oss med andra. Våra upplevelser ger oss då större glädje. Ett lyckligt samhälle uppnås genom att vi uppbringar sympati för våra medmänniskor samtidigt som vi uppträder objektivt och opartiskt. Om vi aktivt gläder oss åt andras VÄLBEFINNANDE så skall vi allesammans bli LYCKLIGARE. Bokens många infallsvinklar och aspekter gör den intressant och läsvärd.
Profile Image for Miet.
48 reviews1 follower
January 5, 2019
I'm being carefully positive about this book. Although I think the general ideas the author offers about happiness are correct, I did raise my eyebrows quite a lot while reading. Some of the studies described to make his point, seem almost too simple and not very trustworthy.

This book is 13 years old, I would like to see an update about it. Also, I would like to know more about the effect of overpopulation on our happiness, which I personally believe affects our lives.
Profile Image for Barbara Ab.
757 reviews3 followers
December 26, 2017
Layard è un economista e il libro è un saggio molto down-to-earth sul livello di felicità al giorno d’oggi rispetto al dopoguerra in America e Europa. Malgrado sia stato scritto agli inizi del duemila è sotto molti punti di vista out-of-date. Lettura cmq piacevole in quanto saggio da “intrattenimento” e non accademico.
Profile Image for David Barr.
5 reviews50 followers
July 14, 2021
I expected a more economics-heavy book with policy suggestions since Layard is an economist by trade to my knowledge. He more argues that happiness is a real concept measurable and therefore should be the metric we optimize rather than GDP. He also goes over a few proven interventions to raise our happiness.
Profile Image for Aleš Bednařík.
Author 4 books14 followers
October 24, 2020
Pekne a jednoducho napísaná kniha o šťastí z pohľadu ekonóma, takže obsahuje aj spoločenský pohľad na šťastie. Knihu napísal uznávaný britský ekonóm a ponúka aj pohľady na to, ako štát, spoločnosť a politika ovplyvňuje úroveň šťastia svojich občanov.
Profile Image for Hugo.
17 reviews2 followers
December 31, 2019
great little book worth a read if you're into what happiness means, how to measure it, and the implications for our children.
Profile Image for Lauren Davis.
Author 9 books231 followers
July 25, 2021
The author’s thought on creating a non-competitive economy were interesting (see Bhutan), the rest often seemed flawed.
January 25, 2023
The author makes good points, but he gives causality to some examples that indicate correlations. Also, he appears to support utilitarianism throughout the book.
17 reviews
June 28, 2022
Old concepts, but good ones.
What does finding happiness look like. Find out in this book.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 94 reviews

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