Action for Happiness has come to Cork, and it landed last Thursday night.
We met in Carrigaline Youth Club, and as night classes go, it was like no night class I have ever been on. It was more like a group of friends meeting. And even though we didn’t all know each other, there was that buzz of people interested in each other chatting before the class started.
Brenda and Julie started us off, and although it was only for two hours, they flew. And even so we did a lot of work in those two hours.
Although we listened to some expert views on happiness, the most valuable part was chatting and discussing these ideas in small groups.
One of the early exercises was to introduce each other and to say one thing that made the other person happy. If I had answered this off the top of my head I would have said exercising. However, as I chatted about it I came to realise that it wasn’t exactly exercise. It was the feeling I got when I finished – that slightly elated, slightly tired, but not exhausted feeling. Perhaps it’s endorphins, but that word doesn’t quite capture the richness of the feeling.
That it was finishing exercise was an interesting insight. I usually have to drag myself to the gym. And dragging is not something you would immediately associate with a happy making activity. Chatting this out actually had an effect. Now that I understand what the relationship is – it’s easier to get going to the gym.
Another discussion we had later on was what the Irish government could do to increase happiness levels. This was prompted by Richard Layard’s talk. I had never thought too deeply about the state’s role, as I had always focused on the activities an individual could do.
Some of the things we talked about was why didn’t the government measure happiness levels here. They measure it in the UK, where Fermanagh and Omagh are top for happiness. I bet Cork would beat them to be the Happiness Capital of Ireland!
Instead the government focuses on our economic status, and certainly we need a certain level of economic well-being in order to have good levels of personal well-being. And given that, there is a logic to the idea that more wealth will make us happier. This reasoning would be especially strong as we come out of an economic crisis.
But does the evidence support this idea. Above a certain level of income does law of diminishing returns kick in?
If money cannot buy happiness then this changes the state’s role from increasing citizens’s wealth, to determining the basic level of income people need to live well. And then, once achieved, what drivers will increase well being well beyond these levels.