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Happiness: Lessons from a New Science

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  918 ratings  ·  85 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published June 27th 2006 by Penguin Books (first published 2005)
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Apr 04, 2007 rated it did not like it
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 vi ...more
Katie Bayford
May 22, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 righ
Happiness- Lessons From A New Science by Richard Layard

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

- and

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 o
Jan 06, 2013 rated it liked it
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 aspect ...more
Ruth Baker
Aug 11, 2013 rated it liked it
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 econ ...more
Jun 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who need evidence that they're happy although they are not rich
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.
Oct 15, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommended to Holly by: Dr. Sandra Lubarsky
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.
Apr 12, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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 c
Jens Rinnelt
Jan 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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 becomi
Nov 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
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-fict ...more
Jul 10, 2018 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Jun 16, 2018 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Alex by: LSE Waterstones
Part 1 of this book is great, for the most part. It contains some various interesting statistics and thoughts on various societal and genetic changes and their effects on happiness.

Part 2, and Part 3, are a whole different story. The ideas are severely underdeveloped and mostly lazy, to the point where it feels like someone submitting a general proposal for writing a paper rather than a paper itself. Too many opinions are presented as justified and 'self-evident'. This does not strike me as havi
Feb 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pos-psy
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 ...more
Jan 05, 2019 rated it liked it
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.
David Laing
Mar 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
Mario La Pergola
I feel this book left pretty much nothing of value in me after reading the last page
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
great little book worth a read if you're into what happiness means, how to measure it, and the implications for our children. ...more
Nov 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
very interesting read
Joe Denton
Jan 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Very very good. 100% recommend
Sep 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
I really liked this book. I have read several books on happiness lately and thought this one really made some good points. As an economist, Layard argues that we should be paying more attention to what makes us happy and helping countries and communities work towards that instead of just economic development. After all, it's more than money that makes us happy. If we were to measure happiness instead of income by country we might be able to see better how we are measuring up to the principles es ...more
Ian Vollbracht
Dec 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An instant classic. There is a great deal of wisdom in these pages.
Jul 26, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2006
i think this is actually the one recommended in the review i read, but it was still pretty interesting. although, i did get kind of depressed at how being miserable changes your brain and weakens your immune system and makes you die sooner (apparently oscar winners live longer than mere nominees). the book is essentially an argument for making happiness the ultimate aim of society, and describes the kind of public policy that would be required. he mainly argues for more family-friendly work plac ...more
Jul 26, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2006
i think this is actually the one recommended in the review i read, but it was still pretty interesting. although, i did get kind of depressed at how being miserable changes your brain and weakens your immune system and makes you die sooner (apparently oscar winners live longer than mere nominees). the book is essentially an argument for making happiness the ultimate aim of society, and describes the kind of public policy that would be required. he mainly argues for more family-friendly work plac ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

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 interv

Apr 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
A persuasive presentation of Layard's belief that our aim as a society should be to increase happiness, as opposed to increasing income, GDP, health etch as ends in themselves. It's exceptionally clear and simple, while drawing on vast knowledge of the field.

My main reservation is that Layard's idea of happiness is rather simplistic, at least as presented here. He cites Mill's objection that there are different kinds and levels of happiness, but just dismisses it. This affects his views of othe
Sally McRogerson
A study of a combination of philosophy, economic, psychology and political analysis have gone into the writing of this book.

The outcomes seem to me to be a trifle obvious. I expected some new nuggets of information but these are the conclusions it draws. A spiritual life and altruism = happiness. Consumerism = discontent. Anti-depressants make people feel better. Taxes redistribute wealth. We hate to lose anything that we already have twice as much as we like to gain something of equal value.

Tomas Chaigneau
Aug 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: work
I was surprised to see such a low rating for this book. I thought it was fantastic. Of course it glossed over many issues and remained relatively general, however it provides a very comprehensive argument for a move away from GDP. It also gives us a number of ideas and arguments that we may want to pick up and delve into more detail... Probably one of the best popular science books I've read. What's more, it doesn't get stuck in criticising the status quo, but remains positive and offers up solu ...more
Jan 06, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: no one in particular.
This was really quite bad. It should've been an interesting book, and I've read articles about happiness and other emotions that have been interesting. Neurobiology can be interesting! It's possible! However, this is really about 3 surveys stretched out -- using huge font, huge margins, huge graphs, etc. -- to fill a meager book. I was really disappointed. After reading a couple books on the brain (A User's Guide to the Brain and The Ghost in the Machine) where every single bit of information in ...more
Alan Hanssen
Jan 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Second time reading this book, I still read it like it was the first time, haha.
Having an economist talking about happiness it is an interesting experience. Because of the ambition of the book, it would need to have three thousand pages to cover everything in details. Instead, you can see topics on the surface and pick other articles or books to gain a more specialized knowledge.
It is a great experience to see positive psychology out of its environment, to read about the economy and the sources
Jun 10, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Unfortunately - I didn't get a chance to finish the book completely - so I hope to continue reading it some other time. I really enjoyed some of the studies regarding happiness that he reports in the book, and I think I would have enjoyed it more if that had been the emphasis of the book. However, the book looks at happiness - or rather unhappiness - as a type of social problem, and thus how we should respond to it to try to fix it. I imagine that this is what is more interesting to most people ...more
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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 expansi

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“No society can work unless its members feel responsibilities as well as rights.” 4 likes
“We need a revolution in academia, with every social science attempting to
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