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During the past forty years, thousands of studies have been carried out on the subject of happiness. Some have explored the levels of happiness or dissatisfaction associated with typical daily activities, such as working, seeing friends, or doing household chores. Others have tried to determine the extent to which income, family, religion, and other factors are associated with the satisfaction people feel about their lives. The Gallup organization has begun conducting global surveys of happiness, and several countries are considering publishing periodic reports on the growth or decline of happiness among their people. One nation, tiny Bhutan, has actually made "Gross National Happiness" the central aim of its domestic policy. How might happiness research affect government policy in the United States--and beyond? In The Politics of Happiness, former Harvard president Derek Bok examines how governments could use the rapidly growing research data on what makes people happy--in a variety of policy areas to increase well-being and improve the quality of life for all their citizens.

Bok first describes the principal findings of happiness researchers. He considers how reliable the results appear to be and whether they deserve to be taken into account in devising government policies. Recognizing both the strengths and weaknesses of happiness research, Bok looks at the policy implications for economic growth, equality, retirement, unemployment, health care, mental health, family programs, education, and government quality, among other subjects. Timely and incisive, The Politics of Happiness sheds new light on what makes people happy and how government policy could foster greater satisfaction for all.

Published: Princeton University Press on Feb 1, 2010
ISBN: 9781400832194
List price: $19.95
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What would a government do if its highest aim was the happiness of it's citizens? Wow, that's radical! Derek Bok has taken on this question with his usual wise and careful scholarship. His answer is convincing. I am ready to sign up for the National Happiness Party and nominate Derek Bok for president. Bok's question is not in the least theoretical. In fact, the tiny nation of Brunei has made the happiness of its citizens its top priority. how does this work as a practical matter? The basic test for proposed policy is whether it contributes to the Gross National Happiness as opposed to the Gross Domestic Product. Conservatives at this point are muttering into their Wall Street Journals that without a vibrant economy we will all suffer a drastic decline in happiness. Not so fast, says Bok. Maybe the idea of continuous economic expansion is equally or more problematic, given it's cyclical nature and resultant environmental degradation.What Bok is doing here is reframing how we think about the role of government to be more citizen-centric. His ideas serve as an alternative theory of what government is for. Regardless of one's political views, everyone who cares about governance or happiness should read this book.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Bok is a wealth of knowledge and ideas about current happiness research and the ways that governments can use this research. While he admits that government has limited power when it comes to making people change their ways and thinking, it does not mean that it is powerless. Furthermore, programs designed to alleviate social ills of one sort or another can have the additional by-product of improving well-being in a number of other unforeseen or unintended ways.The author questions the practice of using economic growth or gross national product to measure national vitality and progress. Historically, it was believed that at one point the nation would no longer continue to grow because we would have attained such a level of sustainability that it would not be necessary to keep trudging up that hill. People would have enough to be happy. This never came to pass, however, and Americans are no happier than they were sixty years ago. Puzzlingly, especially when it comes to large tax-payer funded programs, people are grossly ignorant of how government functions and of what will actually make them happy. Therefore, it is hardly viable to fund programs designed to increase well-being with money that tax-payers fail to see will benefit them. It’s a catch 22 that keeps the nation and its citizens from reaching their full potential. Topics covered include marriage and family; leisure; unemployment; health care; retirement; child care and preschool education; mental illness, sleep disorders, and chronic pain; and secondary and higher education. For each of these topics, he presents the reasons contributing to why they are not currently dealt with well and ways that things could change to improve conditions, resulting in increased well-being. Near the end of the book, he sums things up nicely and states:“In contemplating this altered agenda, lawmakers should be pleased to discover how little it would cost the nation. Some important measures, notably universal health care, would require substantial sums to implement properly. But other useful steps, such as more extensive premarital counseling, more effective relief of chronic pain, more attention to crime victims, and a broader set of educational goals, would be far less expensive. Better yet, such valuable measures as universal preschool, or public financing of elections, or proper attention to sleep disorders and depression, though they would require initial investments, could more than pay for themselves eventually. Still other initiatives, such as efforts to discourage earmarks or revise sentencing policies for victimless crimes, would reduce government outlays almost immediately. Any success in avoiding unnecessary wars, of course, would yield far greater savings. Overall, then, a comprehensive effort to promote well-being is one of the few important government initiatives that could ultimately cost the public little or nothing. If obstacles to such reforms exist, they are more likely to involve a lack of political will than a shortage of money.” (p. 209)If only more people would read this and open their eyes to what we are doing to ourselves and what else is possible. The focus on short-term goals and quick fixes to big problems will only hurt everyone in the end. It may not be comfortable or simple to implement programs that people do not see as immediately beneficial to them, but it is still far better than the road we are currently on. I’m with Bok in the hope that governments take well-being research seriously and use it more and more in the future. To not do so would be a disservice and will only exacerbate the problems we are already facing, making it that much more difficult for future generations. Now that we have this information and research at our disposal, it would be a shame if we squandered the opportunity to use it to improve lives.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.

Reviews

What would a government do if its highest aim was the happiness of it's citizens? Wow, that's radical! Derek Bok has taken on this question with his usual wise and careful scholarship. His answer is convincing. I am ready to sign up for the National Happiness Party and nominate Derek Bok for president. Bok's question is not in the least theoretical. In fact, the tiny nation of Brunei has made the happiness of its citizens its top priority. how does this work as a practical matter? The basic test for proposed policy is whether it contributes to the Gross National Happiness as opposed to the Gross Domestic Product. Conservatives at this point are muttering into their Wall Street Journals that without a vibrant economy we will all suffer a drastic decline in happiness. Not so fast, says Bok. Maybe the idea of continuous economic expansion is equally or more problematic, given it's cyclical nature and resultant environmental degradation.What Bok is doing here is reframing how we think about the role of government to be more citizen-centric. His ideas serve as an alternative theory of what government is for. Regardless of one's political views, everyone who cares about governance or happiness should read this book.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Bok is a wealth of knowledge and ideas about current happiness research and the ways that governments can use this research. While he admits that government has limited power when it comes to making people change their ways and thinking, it does not mean that it is powerless. Furthermore, programs designed to alleviate social ills of one sort or another can have the additional by-product of improving well-being in a number of other unforeseen or unintended ways.The author questions the practice of using economic growth or gross national product to measure national vitality and progress. Historically, it was believed that at one point the nation would no longer continue to grow because we would have attained such a level of sustainability that it would not be necessary to keep trudging up that hill. People would have enough to be happy. This never came to pass, however, and Americans are no happier than they were sixty years ago. Puzzlingly, especially when it comes to large tax-payer funded programs, people are grossly ignorant of how government functions and of what will actually make them happy. Therefore, it is hardly viable to fund programs designed to increase well-being with money that tax-payers fail to see will benefit them. It’s a catch 22 that keeps the nation and its citizens from reaching their full potential. Topics covered include marriage and family; leisure; unemployment; health care; retirement; child care and preschool education; mental illness, sleep disorders, and chronic pain; and secondary and higher education. For each of these topics, he presents the reasons contributing to why they are not currently dealt with well and ways that things could change to improve conditions, resulting in increased well-being. Near the end of the book, he sums things up nicely and states:“In contemplating this altered agenda, lawmakers should be pleased to discover how little it would cost the nation. Some important measures, notably universal health care, would require substantial sums to implement properly. But other useful steps, such as more extensive premarital counseling, more effective relief of chronic pain, more attention to crime victims, and a broader set of educational goals, would be far less expensive. Better yet, such valuable measures as universal preschool, or public financing of elections, or proper attention to sleep disorders and depression, though they would require initial investments, could more than pay for themselves eventually. Still other initiatives, such as efforts to discourage earmarks or revise sentencing policies for victimless crimes, would reduce government outlays almost immediately. Any success in avoiding unnecessary wars, of course, would yield far greater savings. Overall, then, a comprehensive effort to promote well-being is one of the few important government initiatives that could ultimately cost the public little or nothing. If obstacles to such reforms exist, they are more likely to involve a lack of political will than a shortage of money.” (p. 209)If only more people would read this and open their eyes to what we are doing to ourselves and what else is possible. The focus on short-term goals and quick fixes to big problems will only hurt everyone in the end. It may not be comfortable or simple to implement programs that people do not see as immediately beneficial to them, but it is still far better than the road we are currently on. I’m with Bok in the hope that governments take well-being research seriously and use it more and more in the future. To not do so would be a disservice and will only exacerbate the problems we are already facing, making it that much more difficult for future generations. Now that we have this information and research at our disposal, it would be a shame if we squandered the opportunity to use it to improve lives.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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