The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being

By Derek Bok | Go to book overview
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3
SHOULD POLICY-MAKERS USE
HAPPINESS RESEARCH?

There are powerful arguments for making happiness a fo- cal point for government policy. Its overriding impor- tance to human beings has been affirmed by influential thinkers from Socrates to John Locke to Sigmund Freud. According to opinion surveys, happiness usually ranks at the top of the goals people hope to achieve, a high regard that should surely count for something in a democratic state.1 What's more, as indicated in chapter 1, the way to lasting happiness seems to include acts of civic engagement, kindness, and other behaviors far more beneficial to society than an endless pursuit of momentary pleasures and trivial pursuits. In turn, people with high levels of well-being are more likely to be healthy, happily married, effective in their jobs, and civic-minded, generous, and tolerant citizens.2 If both the causes and effects of happiness are so worthwhile, why wouldn't any sensible government want to shape its policies to help its citizens achieve higher levels of well-being?


Is Happiness a Proper Aim of Public Policy?

Despite the arguments just noted, not everyone will agree that governments should devote themselves to promoting happiness. Some readers undoubtedly have other ends they consider more im- portant. They may attach greater value to fulfilling their highest potential, or to leading a virtuous life, or to dedicating themselves wholeheartedly to God or the welfare of others.

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