This week three of the Islington Hub hosts headed down to Hub Kings Cross for the latest lunchtime instalment in their 60 Minute MENU series (see http://kingscross.the-hub.net/events for more information), which gives members a chance to speak about their specialisms. Hub King’s Cross member David Tross, a Birkbeck lecturer specialising in community policy, led a discussion on the relationship between wellbeing and the community and helped dissect what happiness actually consists of. Quoting American Psychologist Martin Seligman’s formula for happiness (pleasure + engagement + meaning), followed the implication that individual happiness can only really result from leading a fulfilled life in areas of family, health, work, community, values, finance and having a purpose to one’s life.
Politicians worldwide are taking note of the importance of determining what it is that makes individuals happy and recognising the benefits of greater cumulative happiness in society at large. Bhutan, famous for measuring its country’s gross national happiness rather than gross domestic product since 1972, hosted a significant meeting in the UN on happiness in April of this year and has in turn encouraged other governments worldwide to try to measure and improve their own country’s happiness. David Cameron has taken this on board, commissioning the Office for National Statistics with measuring to what extent British individuals are satisfied with life in a nationwide survey (http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/britain%E2%80%99s-wellbeing-to-be-measured/). Though somewhat limited in its scope, measuring quantitatively on a scale of 1 to 10 how satisfied individuals were with life, the basic premise behind it has great importance for his ‘Big Society’ concept and the idea that community is one way of encouraging happiness. Whilst the concept has brought some beneficial measures like the creation of the role of community organisers, and whilst volunteering in line with the ‘Big Society’ idea has been proven to increase individuals’ happiness and sense of purpose, trying to encourage people to get involved in a time of recession appears to be an insurmountable challenge.
There was also much discussion around the link between inequality and general happiness, particularly salient following the release of the latest Joseph Rowntree Foundation report this week (http://www.jrf.org.uk/publications/MIS-2012) which suggested that a family of four in Britain needs at least £40,000 p.a. to have an acceptable standard of living. Whilst greater inequality in countries is continually correlated with lower living standards in the form of higher obesity rates, higher rates of mental illness, increased drug use and teenage pregnancies, the Scandinavian countries were held up as a flagship example of how countries that heavily invest in the reduction of social inequality see greater levels of happiness across their population as a whole. Scandinavian wellbeing is encouraged through more communal housing arrangements, better public services and an attitude to life that in which individuals tend to not be over-ambitious seeking material things beyond their means, but rather are satisfied with having enough in life to secure an average standard of living. The whole Scandinavian philosophy with regard to happiness in life can be summed up in the Swedish term ‘Lagom’, which has been translated as ‘enough is as good as a feast’ but which more commonly roughly translates as having ‘just enough’. Whilst it is clear that enjoying community and having sufficient money to support life’s basic necessities is important in securing happiness, perhaps ultimately we could learn something from the Swedish in learning simply to be happy with Lagom.