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Articles, Community, Happiness

Action for Happiness: A Social Movement, Creating Happiness

June 28, 2016
Lord Richard Layard speaks at an Action for Happiness Event (Photo courtesy of Action for Happiness)

Lord Richard Layard speaks at an Action for Happiness Event

Last month, TTDOG featured an article on Lord Richard Layard who, together with Sir Anthony Seldon and Geoff Mulgan, founded Action for Happiness.  In this article we depart from featuring an individual making a difference to introduce a group of individuals in a worldwide movement working together to create as much happiness in the world as possible, and as little misery: Action for Happiness.

 

Left to Right: Geoff Mulgan, Sir Anthony Seldon and Matthieu Ricard

Left to Right: Geoff Mulgan, Sir Anthony Seldon and Matthieu Ricard.

 

TTDOG interviewed the director of Action for Happiness, Dr. Mark Williamson and Head of Campaigns and Communications, Alex Nunn, who agreed to speak on behalf of the organisation.

 

Director of Action for Happiness, Dr. Mark Williamson speaking at an Action for Happiness Event

Director Dr. Mark Williamson speaking at an Action for Happiness Event

 

TTDOG:  What is the mission of Action for Happiness?  How do you hope to achieve this?

AfH:  Action for happiness is a movement of people taking action for a happier and more caring world. We bring this about by provoking people to think more deeply about where happiness really comes from, with learning from the latest wellbeing research, and helping them commit to taking action in their own lives. These actions go on to benefit and inspire others in their families, workplaces, and communities. It is through the collective force of these ripples that we hope to see values shifting in society.

 

Action for Happiness is organised as a UK based not for profit organisation as part of the Registered Charity, The Young Foundation.  Action for Happiness is run by a Board of experts in various fields related to Happiness and a team of dedicated volunteers.  The organisation hosts large events in London with inspiring guest speakers and self-managing groups meet worldwide. The organisation has provided a (by-donation) 8 week course ‘Exploring What Matters,’ which is facilitated by volunteers, to help these self-managed groups get started.  The patron of Action for Happiness is His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.

 

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, at an Action for Happiness event

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, at an Action for Happiness event

 

According to the Action for Happiness website:  “Everyone’s path to happiness is different. Based on the latest research, we have identified 10 Keys to Happier Living that consistently tend to make life happier and more fulfilling. Together they spell “GREAT DREAM.”

 

Action for Happiness' Ten Keys to happier living

Action for Happiness’ Ten Keys to happier living

 

The letters in GREAT DREAM stand for:  Giving to others; Relating, because as we have seen from the work of Layard and others, relationships are the greatest contributor to happiness; Exercising, because we feel better when we’re fit and healthy; Awareness, because it’s impossible to be happy if we are not present in the moment.  Living mindfully helps us to be aware of our emotions, including happiness; Trying Out, because people who try new things throughout life are able keep the brain healthy and feel happier.  Direction, because people who have goals and a sense of purpose are happier; Resilience, because having the tools to bounce back from hard times is key to long term happiness; Emotions, because paying attention to, and generating more positive emotions, like gratitude, helps us feel happy; Acceptance, because it is not possible to be happy with ourselves until we accept ourselves – warts and all; and Meaning, because happy people cultivate a feeling of being part of something greater than themselves.

These are the keys, according to the organisation, to build a happier life.   However, the mission of the organisation is not just to focus on each individual’s happiness, but to create more happiness in the world.

 

 

TTDOG:  In what ways are the members of Action for Happiness taking action in the world to promote happiness?

AfH:  Everyone’s journey is different, and the actions they take along the way can be really diverse: we have members who do small daily acts of kindness, helping out strangers, picking up litter, practicing mindfulness to reduce quick-tempers and stress, to people who quit high-paid jobs that aren’t making them happy to try out something new. It’s great to see that a lot of our members also take action to support the mission and movement also (e.g. volunteering to run one of our courses, host a local gathering or set-up a happy cafe).

London’s first happy cafe, the Canvas Cafe in East London will be featured next in this series of articles.  It provides a venue for people to meet, share conversation and to attend events related to self improvement, the arts and – of course – Happiness.

 

TTDOG:  Critics of positive psychology and the happiness movement might say that the focus on individual happiness and wellbeing leads to a society of selfish and isolated individuals. Does the pursuit of happiness make people more or less concerned about social justice and issues like rising inequality in the world?

AfH:  There are two reasons why people fail to stand up for social justice issues, either they are insufficiently aware, or they insufficiently care. Taking happiness seriously helps with both. When we start to look at where happiness really comes from in our own lives two things tend to happen: we gain perspective on the things that don’t matter, that distract us and fill our heads with unnecessary stress, and pay more attention to the things that really do, particularly the importance of our connections to other people. This shift frees up people’s minds to become more aware of what is going on around them, and cultivates caring for others – the very foundations of a social conscience. It’s also worth noting that relationship between inequality and materialism, the fact that we’re in the collective habit of seeking happiness in the insatiable consumption of stuff, and the pursuit of ‘wealth’ which provides it.  A more enlightened understanding of happiness can be quite helpful in liberating people from this.

 

Action for Happiness members

Action for Happiness members

 

Like all organisations, however, it is really the ‘tone at the top’ that creates a pervasive ethos and determines how an organisation will contribute to a society. And so we thought it incumbent upon us to inquire a little into the personal motivations and feelings of those who lead the organisation and its volunteer activities.

 

TTDOG: Why is Action for Happiness important to you, personally?

MW:  As Aristotle said, ‘Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life; the whole aim and end of human existence’. And when you ask parents what they want above all for their children, by far the most common answer is: “to be happy”. So happiness is the thing we want the most for the people we love the most. But in modern society we spend too much time focusing on money, status and possessions – and don’t give enough priority to the things that really matter for a happy life… like good relationships, mental wellbeing and having a sense of purpose. That’s where Action for Happiness comes in. We help people take action to focus on the things that really matter and help contribute to a happier and kinder world.

AN:  My background is in campaigning and activism, but I became deeply frustrated that so much energy in that space is wasted on generating anger (however righteous) towards society’s problems, creating unproductive ‘us and them’ divisions and only very rarely putting forward constructive solutions that everyone can get behind. Action for Happiness to me is exactly that: a positive idea, with the potential to radically improve the world that anyone and everyone can get involved in. Whereas in other movements constantly suffer from activist burnout, our members become happier, more aware and more caring the more they get involved. It’s got such potential, and it’s hugely exciting.

 

Alex Nunn and other Action for Happiness volunteers

Alex Nunn and other Action for Happiness volunteers

 

TTDOG:  Are you a happy person?

 

MW: Yes I’m generally very happy, although like everyone I have my moments of sadness, anger and despair. For me a happy life isn’t about smiling all the time or pretending everything’s fine when it’s not. Rather it’s about being your own authentic self, finding ways to cope with the dark times and learning to respond constructively to what ever life throws at you.

I attribute my happiness to a combination of my upbringing (grateful to have a close and loving family), my good fortune (lucky to have good health, freedom, opportunities and a degree of stability) and my choices (ie habits and behaviours I’ve learned that make a big difference to my wellbeing – eg mindfulness, helping others).

 

AN: The idea of a ‘happy person’ suggests it’s some intrinsic aspect of my personality – which if true, would be pretty unfortunate for anyone who’s not happy right now. I have the same ups and downs as anyone. But when tough times come around I’m really fortunate that I’ve invested time in cultivating skills that contribute to happiness and wellbeing: I’ve trained my mind to notice things I’m grateful for, to seek learning in a challenge that can help me grow, to accept problems without obsessing about them, and if things get too much to step out of my own head for a moment by exercising or doing something kind for someone else. So happiness isn’t about yellow-washing the dark times, it’s about finding ways to accept whatever is happening, remember that happiness is possible, and stay willing to try to make things better for yourself and others.

 

At an Action for Happiness event

At an Action for Happiness event

 

TTDOG:  Action for Happiness recently celebrated their 5 year anniversary.  What have you accomplished?

AfH: We’ve accomplished a lot but we’ve really only just started and there’s so much more to do.

In terms of numbers, we believe our messages have been seen by over 20 million people, around 7m have used the resources on our website, we have nearly a million online followers and over 70,000 signed up members in 160 countries.

Since our launch in 2011 over 100,000 people have taken some kind of personal action based on our ideas, including over 2,000 people who have put themselves forward to run local activities and 200 of these who have been actively running Action for Happiness courses and groups in their local communities.

 

The Action for Happiness 8 week course: ‘Exploring What Matters’ was featured on the BBC, following the Dalai Lama’s visit with Action for Happiness members in London last year:

 

 

 

As is our custom at TTDOG, we asked Mark Williams our final question:  For what are you most grateful and what gives you greatest joy?

I am eternally grateful to my mum and dad for all their love and support and for giving me the most important start for a happy and meaningful life – ie a loving, safe and supportive family environment. I am also hugely grateful to all the amazing and inspiring people who give their time so generously to support Action for Happiness and help bring our vision to life in their communities, schools and workplaces.

 

What gives me greatest joy is spending enjoyable time with the people I love, especially my wife Kate and our three young children. Other things that make me very happy include cycling (a lot!), time with friends, singing in a choir and taking time every day to notice the good things, however small.

 

Messages of gratitude at an Action for Happiness event

Messages of gratitude at an Action for Happiness event

 

TTDOG would like to thank Action for Happiness for providing all the photographs appearing in this article.

 

 

 

For more information on Action for Happiness, follow the links below:

 

 

Action for Happiness Website

Action for Happiness on Facebook

Action for Happiness on Twitter

 

 

Articles, Happiness

Lord Richard Layard: Creating As Much Happiness and As Little Misery

May 27, 2016

 

 

 

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’  They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” – Unknown

 

Happiness matters.  Yet, for many of us, the pursuit of happiness has remained an elusive goal, despite being the central preoccupation of most of our lives.

At a time when few other Economists were seriously studying Happiness, Lord Richard Layard took up the mantle.  An Emeritus Professor of Economics at London School of Economics, founder of the LSE Centre for Economic Performance and current Director of the LSE Centre for Wellbeing, Lord Layard is a leader in the academic field of Happiness research and champions its pursuit as a legitimate aim for societies and their governments.  In 1980, he wrote the first empirical research paper on Happiness to offer policy implications.  In 2003 he gave a seminal lecture series on Happiness and authored a book on the topic.  He has been invited to share his expertise and findings with the OECD, the World Economic Forum (WEF), and from 2012, with the United Nations, as co-editor (with John Helliwell and Jeffrey Sachs) of the UN World Happiness Reports.  Although he draws from the work of Psychology, Neuroscience and Philosophy, his approach to the science of Happiness is one of Economics.

 

TTDOG is honoured to feature Lord Richard Layard, an individual making a difference to the lives of others, with his work.

 

Lord Richard Layard. Photo: Nigel Rogers

Lord Richard Layard;   Photo: Nigel Rogers

 

 

Happiness: The Overarching Goal

 

TTDOG interviewed Lord Layard, by telephone, about his work on Happiness.

“The goal of society should be to enable people to lead happy and fulfilling lives.  Unless there’s agreement about that as the objective, discussion about what we know about causes of happiness is not that interesting.”

Layard adopted this 18th century enlightenment thinking, after reading Jeremy Bentham at University.   In his book, Happiness: Lessons from a new science, Lord Layard states:

“By happiness I mean feeling good – enjoying life and wanting the feeling to be maintained. By unhappiness I mean feeling bad and wishing things were different.”

Layard outlines the Easterlin Paradox, named for USC economist Richard Easterlin:  People want to increase their wealth, and societies have operated under the assumption that an increase in wealth must result in an increase in welfare. At any given point in time, the richest in a society will be happier than their poorer counterparts, but surprisingly, across society, any increases in income result in only minimal changes to happiness.

In response to Easterlin’s findings, Economists Ruut Veenhoven and Michael Haggerty published their own analysis, using different data sets and arguing against the paradox. Economists Bestsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers conducted a time series analysis in which they showed that happiness rises with incomes, but at a slower rate. Easterlin maintains his original position and Layard agrees.

The Easterlin paradox, Layard argues, demonstrates that it is our level of income, relative to our peers, that impacts our happiness.   In order for person A to be happy, person B must be less well off.  Overall, this produces what mathematicians call a ‘zero sum game.’

 

Photo: Cindy Tang

Photo: Cindy Tang

 

Layard confirms Easterlin’s findings that over the past 60 years, societal happiness levels have remained constant, despite rising wealth. In any given population, changes in income account for only about 1% of the variance in happiness for rich countries, and, in no country does it account for more than 2%.

Layard also points to what Economists call the ‘declining marginal utility of income.’   TTDOG offers an example of the law of diminishing returns: When a person has nothing, £1 adds happiness because it helps us to obtain our basic needs, but as income rises, each successive £1 provides less and less additional happiness. An extra £1 means more to the poor than it does to the rich.

As Layard notes in his book:

“One thing is clear: Once subsistence income is guaranteed, making people happier is not easy.”

 

 

Why Happiness?

Why should we bother with happiness at all, then?

“I’ve always reasoned in the following sort of way: there are many goods that people like Amartya Sen spell out: health, wealth, freedom, agency, and so on, and happiness.  One can ask: ‘Why are these goods good?’

If you ask: ‘Why is wealth good?’   It helps people to feel better about their lives and lead more satisfying lives. Why is health good? Because being sick makes you feel bad, and so on. You can go through all the other things other than happiness, and you can give reasons why they’re important. In many cases, it’s because they make people feel better.

But, ask:  ‘Why does it matter if people feel better?’  You can’t give an answer. That is just the overarching thing that is felt to be true.  I’m very keen to get across the idea that happiness is the overarching good by which we should judge our societies.

Now that’s not the same as saying that we should judge one person against another by how happy that person’s life is, because it is also very important how they contribute happiness to other people. You have to look at it as a proposition that the best state of life for a group of people is one in which they are enjoying their lives.”

But can Economics, renowned as ‘the dismal science’ really measure and contribute to the pursuit of Happiness?

 

 

Measuring Happiness

Happiness is a feeling, and feelings fluctuate constantly.  Is there really a way to measure and compare something that changes from moment to moment and is inherently subjective?  Lord Layard argues that we should not shy away from feelings because it is how a people feel that really matters and is how we can judge society.  Further, he argues that it is possible to do sensible research into the levels and causes of happiness by looking at an individual’s long term average happiness.

 

Photo: Negative Space

Photo: Negative Space

 

Throughout his career, Layard has argued that economic theory and policy must always be based on facts and points to four advances in measurement of life satisfaction:

  1. A person’s subjective assessment of their own wellbeing can be verified by third party assessment, with a high level of correlation;
  2. Factors we expect to impact on wellbeing do, in fact, impact on people’s life satisfaction scores;
  3. Things people say they will do correlate with what they actually do; and
  4. Research from Neuroscience shows that when a person reports their subjective wellbeing, measurable electrical activity is observed in the centres of the brain associated with the emotions being reported.

Since electrical impulses in the brain are an objective measure, and subjective wellbeing responses coincide with these, then, Layard reasons, the subjective responses must contain “objective content.”

“Economists and psychologists are both looking at the facts.  Psychologists have tended to look at small surveys that they’ve done with groups.  Economists have tended to look at big population surveys and what both of these enables you to do is to look at the huge variation in any population in the happiness levels of the different people in society and then look at possible causes.

That’s the essential method of research and then of course it can go on to looking at individual lives over time to see what makes the same person become more or less happy as different experiences occur to them.”

Large data sets like those collected by Gallop and the OECD allow Economists to make comparisons both within and across populations.  Controlled experiments are also undertaken in Happiness studies.

“Until recently it was not that easy to implement this idea. We now know what produces happy lives.  We have a huge amount of evidence that makes it possible to argue that it should be, for policy makers, their goal.

And of course it also enables us to inform people about what would be a good way for them to lead their own lives as individuals and citizens.”

 

 

The Pursuit of Happiness:

So what is it that does contribute to happiness and what would be a good way for us to lead our lives in order to be happy?

 

Photo: Lesly B. Juarez

Photo: Lesly B. Juarez

 

In the 2012 UN World Happiness Report, Lord Layard argues that there are several internal and external factors which co-vary with income.  It is these co-variables, not income alone, that are responsible for changes in levels of happiness.

Broadly speaking, external factors include income, but also include the quality of our relationship to work and our community and the existence of good governance that allows trust and security to flourish. Those countries which emphasised cooperation and mutual respect scored far higher on happiness ratings than did those societies emphasising individualism and competition. Shared values and engagement with religious experience also impacted on subjective wellbeing.

Internal factors such as gender and age, family relationships and educational attainment were predictors of happiness, as was current physical health and one’s history of mental health.

By far, Layard says, the biggest contributors to happiness are our relationships: with family, work and community.

Knowing what causes happiness, is Richard Layard a happy person?

“I think it’s a very good question because sometimes people ask you: ‘Are you always happy?’  Of course a happy person isn’t always happy. A happy person is normally somebody who is trying to do something useful with their life which means that you’re bound to be frustrated sometimes.  But, are you a happy person? Yes!

There’s always things which I’m trying to do which I think are useful and exciting and rewarding. I’m very very lucky in having a wonderful wife. We just enjoy being together and doing things together and being on holiday together and all of that. And also, some social life is important. I play tennis twice a week and we play bridge once a fortnight. I wouldn’t be quite the same person at all without socialising and keeping my body and mind fresh.

A good work life, a good family life and a good social life. This is the basis.”

 

 

What Then Must We Do?

Following the publication of the first UN World Happiness Report, policy makers in a number of countries have included happiness and wellbeing in policy discussions.

“The most important thing is that each country does attempt to measure the happiness of its people and try to improve it.  I think the power of the World Happiness Report is that it has data for every country and that just raises so many questions in people’s minds, they begin to address the issue of  ‘Why are we so much lower than somewhere else?’ and ‘Is there something we can do about it?'”

Might a focus on the pursuit of happiness simply provide justification for social injustice, individual and political self interest?

“Altruism is incredibly important. I think that part of the happiness movement, including some of the people associated with Positive Psychology do focus far too heavily on helping the individual to pursue their own happiness, whereas, of course, if we are saying that the goal that we want to see is happiness spread across the population, that is absolutely not the way to bring that about.  If each person is seeking their own happiness only, it’s not likely to be a very happy population because we’re so affected by how other people behave toward us.”

Lord Layard argues that society has moved away from times when religious belief or the secular belief in socialism provided the foundation for value systems that included a concept of something greater than oneself and a strong sense of duty to others. Modern society has retained a sense of individual rights but seems to fall short on the other side of the social contract: responsibility to one another.

In the 2016 Update to the World Happiness Report, Layard offers an alternative to the competitive individualism that has replaced faith based values.  He proposes the development and promotion of a set of Secular Ethics based on a return to virtue morality and strength of character.

“I very much believe that we should be trying to create as much happiness in the world, in the way that we live, and especially as little misery.  This is the basic principle behind all detailed moral rules.  But it’s not just moral rules which tell you what you shouldn’t do.  It’s particularly moral rules of what you should do.  You should be going out and creating happiness.  The sins of omission are as important as the sins of commission.”

As for how each individual can make a difference in the world, Layard suggests that each person must assess for themselves how they can best use their skills and personality to bring about these aims.  Each of us can do it differently, he says, whether it is through our work, or the way in which we live in our families and communities.  He notes that it is important that each individual develop inner strength and “a certain emotional disposition to keep at it.”

TTDOG asked Lord Layard to share with readers how he maintains his own resilience:

“One does have to remember that many people are feeling a lot worse than oneself at any point in time. That’s important. But I think equally important is to remember what you’re trying to do. If you’re trying to create more happiness in the world that’s quite an inspiring thing to do and if things are not going very well at the moment in one way or another, including your own efforts not being very successful, I think you should take a slightly heroic view of these things. You can’t expect to win every time.  Feel inspired by whatever you’re trying to do.

I also think that we should all have mechanisms for raising our spirits. When I was in Bhutan I asked one of the high Llamas that I’ve visited 3 times now:  ‘If you want to lift your spirits how do you do it?’ So he taught me. You can almost call it a trick but it works extremely well.  I’m sure every great tennis player has some device for cheering himself up when things are going badly. We all need internal sort of tricks that we can play with our spirits to lift them and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.”

 

Photo: Ashley Batz

Photo: Ashley Batz

 

“Matthieu Ricard talks about ‘unconditional benevolence’ and that we should try to develop within ourselves an unconditional benevolence so that when someone is threatening or doesn’t seem very friendly, we are determined not to react negatively; We are going to reach out to everybody.

Then the question is how can we inspire people to hang on to this principle in all the vicissitudes of life?  I think you can’t do it without associating with other people. You just can’t lead a good life in isolation. You have to be associated with other people who have the same values and remind you of something bigger. And this is what I think that churches do. I think most of us, even if we’re not believers, when we go into a church, feel that there’s something bigger than ourselves and we need institutions that keep reminding us of that.”

 

Photo: Ben Duchac

Photo: Ben Duchac

 

“That’s why we founded Action for Happiness as an organisation where people would meet in groups to discuss the things which really matter, what they were going to do about them, and get some uplift at regular intervals.  And we wrote this course called ‘Exploring What Matters’ to help these groups get started. These groups are now spreading like wildfire in Britain, the Netherlands and Australia and hopefully world wide.”

Action For Happiness is a UK Not for Profit Organisation, founded in 2011 by Lord Richard Layard, Sir Anthony Seldon and Geoff Mulgan. The Director of the organisation is Dr. Mark Williamson and their Patron is His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.  The organisation hosts large gatherings in London, with inspiring guest speakers.  Over 70,000 members in 170 countries have taken a pledge to create as much happiness in the world as they can, and as little misery.

 

 

Policy Implications

Lord Layard argues that individual efforts should be met with policy decisions designed to achieve society-wide happiness. But policy decisions involve tradeoffs.  How might the goal of happiness be used to adjudicate decisions where, for example, two public goods associated with Happiness – Trust and Security – come into conflict?

 

Photo: Tania D. Campbell

Photo: Tania D. Campbell

 

“You’ve raised a difficult issue, the balance between security and liberty.  I think that’s a difficult trade-off and I think that the only way of thinking about where along that spectrum you should strike the balance is in terms of the overall level of happiness of the population.”

TTDOG pointed out that social injustice could result from actions that achieve a high sum total of happiness in a society, but which comes at a high cost for a vulnerable minority.

 

Photo: Tania D. Campbell

Photo: Tania D. Campbell

 

“I certainly don’t think we should judge a society by the sum total of happiness.  I think we should judge it by the overall distribution of happiness and in particular, how many people are below an acceptable level.

In particular, you have to aim to lift the happiness level of people who would otherwise be at an unacceptably low level.  So policy should be concerned with the reduction of misery more than raising the general level of happiness.  It should be concerned with both, but an extra special weight should be given to the reduction of misery.

I think that is the basis for establishing minimum standards and basic rights and all the other values within society that governments and legislators have for protecting, as you say, vulnerable groups.”

The 2016 Update to the World Happiness Report contains a chapter arguing for the importance of addressing issues of inequality in the distribution of happiness within society and for adjusting the concept of inequality to be defined by distribution of happiness, not income.

 

 

 

Happiness and Deprivation

When one looks at Lord Richard Layard’s body of work, policy recommendations based on Happiness may seem very far removed from his early work on poverty.  Scratch the surface, however, and it would appear that he has come full circle with the application of Happiness to a wider concept of deprivation.

“Obviously we should address all problems and I’ve spent most of my life working on poverty and unemployment but if you’re looking at what particular ways people that are least happy differ from other people, certainly a proportion of the least happy people are poor and a proportion are unemployed.   But a hugely greater proportion are people living with a diagnosis: depression or anxiety disorders and that is a fact which has been overlooked when people have developed their concepts of what it is to be deprived.”

 

Photo: Ismael Nieto

Photo: Ismael Nieto

 

“What is deprivation? Deprivation is not just to be deprived of the means of earning a living but it’s to be deprived of the means of enjoying life.  We’ve really got to have a much wider concept of deprivation.”

In his work, Lord Layard found that roughly 1 in 6 people in the UK will be diagnosed with a mental illness. Of the diagnosed population, only a meagre 25% receive any form of treatment and for the most part, this is medication, rather than psychological therapies recommended by  National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

“Can we do as much about mental illness as we can do about poverty or unemployment?  There we again have something which has changed radically over the last 30 years because we’ve developed evidence based psychological therapies which have good success rates, after quite inexpensive interventions. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one, but there are others as well.

Typically, after an average of 9 or 10 sessions with CBT costing, let’s say £1,500 pounds, 50% of the people will cease to have symptoms and will continue in the case of anxiety disorders, to be free of them for the rest of their lives.  If it’s depression, their relapse rates are at least halved as a result of the treatment.”

Layard has authored several papers on mental ill health and co-authored the book Thrive with David M. Clark. With mental ill health costing the UK £60 billion per year in benefits, lost taxes and greater costs of physical care, Layard argues that spending to help the mentally ill to recover and stay well has a net benefit to the economy.

 

Photo: Austin Ban

Photo: Austin Ban

 

Some Psychologists criticise Layard’s Economic analysis as glossing over the complexities of mental illness.  They argue that depression and anxiety are not discrete conditions that can be separated from environmental factors.  Behaviour that presents as depression, for instance may be a normal response to temporary situational factors which resolve naturally, in time.   If these cases are diagnosed as clinical depression, they skew success rates by their resolution.  Further, critics argue that anxiety and depression cannot be treated in isolation, as they are often linked to other conditions like alcohol and drug misuse.

Layard acknowledges the complexity of mental health diagnosis and treatment and maintains that even a non-targeted programme which makes psychological therapies available to the general population has been shown to be successful.  His research resulted in the creation of the Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme.  An initial phase has been successfully completed, and serves as a model for countries around the world.  Layard argues for further expansion.

 

“When you think of what it costs to relieve poverty, you can see that this is a rather cost effective way of raising a person’s wellbeing.”

 

Photo: Morgan Sessions

 

Layard has also co-authored a report, with Judy Dunn:  A Good Childhood: Searching for values in a competitive age.  The report is based on several years of research into problems facing children today, and provides more than 2 dozen recommendations for parents and teachers.

TTDOG asked Lord Layard about the role of prevention, particularly in childhood, in helping to avoid the conditions of misery.

 

Photo: xxxxx

Photo: Tina Floersch

 

“Our first moral duty is of course to help people who are in trouble. It’s absolutely shocking that we don’t have good services available to help every child and young person who has a mental health problem so that’s a number one priority, but then we should be trying to prevent people from getting into that state in the first place.

There’s a range of things that we can do.  We have to help parents to bring up happy children. Antenatal classes should include not just how to care for the child physically, but emotionally. We need to be addressing the issue of perinatal depression in mothers and even in fathers. This is a huge problem in terms of its impact on the children as well.”

 

image

Photo: Sarah Graybeal

 

Layard believes that schools have a vital role to play and argues against educational policy that would produce exam factories.  Academic success – like income – is one of the weakest predictors of life satisfaction.

“I think that it’s really important that we change the goals in schools to include higher in their scale of priorities, the happiness of the children, and the skills which they have for leading happy lives both as children and as adults.

Schools should have a proper wellbeing code, and they should be measuring the wellbeing and happiness of their children, and should be looking at how happy the children are in school. There are many ways in which schools can do this, not just in the way they’re organised in their goals and their ethos, but also teaching life skills in a professional way, which can now be done.”

Lord Layard has promoted the 4 year, adolescent life skills programme, Healthy Minds, and his work has led to universal provision of evidence-based psychological therapies in the treatment of children’s mental health, in the UK.

 

Photo: Danielle MacInnes

Photo: Danielle MacInnes

 

Lord Layard’s vast body of work validates the wisdom of the 5 year old child who understands more than his adult teacher: Our life’s aim really is happiness.

 

TTDOG asked Lord Layard: For what are you most grateful and where do you find your greatest joy? He recounted those things which contribute to his happiness: a good work life, a good family life and a good social life, and went on to add:

 

“Music is very important and an awful lot of people probably have many of their deepest experiences through music, either listening to it, singing it to themselves or playing it.  I play my clarinet to myself at various times and I find that quite inspiring.”

 

 

Photo: Mike Giles

Photo: Mike Giles

 

 

 

 

To learn more about Lord Richard Layard’s work:

 

 

Professor Lord Richard Layard’s LSE Website

Action for Happiness

UN World Happiness Reports

 

Ten Thousand Days

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 399 & Day 400)

September 23, 2015

 

Photo: Nelly Volkovich

Photo: Nelly Volkovich

 

I should be asleep but it is quiet and it is a good time to be reflective.  I get now why I have been so confused for the past few weeks.  I am losing someone that I love.  I don’t mean that they are walking out of my life.  They are actually walking out of life altogether.  Acknowledging that has not come easily and my unconscious has been trying to awaken me to this fact even before it has become apparent in the outer world.

I had a meeting of my Action For Happiness group on the Southbank tonight.  I struggled to get there.   When things are difficult – and I mean really difficult – I don’t talk about it.  I imagine that we are all like this to a greater or lesser extent.  When we are in serious trouble or our pain is intense, we often keep it to ourselves because to unscrew that lid and let it out can feel overwhelming.  And, not many people really want to know or can handle knowing what is happening in the darkest places in our hearts and souls.  Its not easy to sit with someone in pain.  I’ve seen that with my own life changes.

At the meeting today, we were asked to talk about the place where we are drawing strength.  Many people mentioned friends and family.  I am grateful for my family and it is that gratitude and appreciation that is sending me home to savour time together.  We have our challenges and our differences but I am genuinely looking forward to being with them and having some fun and simply – loving them as much as I can for as long as I can.

I am certainly grateful for Kt- in my life right now.  In a couple of months we’ve become pals and more.  I kick about with him, we have a laugh, but I love him dearly and he has a heart the size of the empire state (although he would not have you think that).  He cheers me up, even though I thought that was my job to do for him.  I am so grateful I met him at a couple of street art shows this summer and that I attached myself to him at Juno and have never let him go.

And, I am grateful for the Cheese, who I get to see once a week and we chat and laugh over lunch and who I can talk to on Whatsapp for a stupid joke any time of day and wherever we are in the world.  I don’t see the Guv as much as I used to when I was working but I hope that will change in the future.  I am grateful for the H-Sisters who keep me laughing and help me to manage my energy when we are together and for Dan Shears and Megan Affonso who started out as the band I loved and have become friends in the past year or so and who I delight in continuing to get to know.  I’m grateful for Ni- who has been with me through ups and downs in our relationship and is one of the most loyal people I know.  I’m grateful for Lk- who is endlessly online and responds quickly when I need support and often has something funny or distracting to say to keep me going.  I’m grateful for the street art community that provides me endless entertainment and laughter and probably more than I can handle with my energy levels so if I’m not at all the events, it isn’t for lack of love.  I’m grateful for my friends around the world, particularly the small handful that get me and really know the implications of just a few words uttered and there is no need for explanations or assumptions.  We know one another’s hearts as well as it is possible to know one another – CM, TCBC, Cal among them – they are my roots so that I have had wings.

And, I am grateful for N- who, through some miracle, managed to purchase a ticket to hear the Dalai Lama speak on creating a happier world on World Peace Day, yesterday.  And through an even greater confluence of time and place, managed, two weeks after I got my ticket, to hit the ‘best available seat’ button and click ‘buy’ before she even knew that she had bought the seat right beside me.  Of 2,000 seats in the theatre, she managed to be located in the one next to me – by chance.  It was exactly what was needed.

 

        Although she may have thought I wasn’t paying attention in the event because I was tweeting quotes and photos, it was a part of my work to do so, and to help raise awareness of the organisation because I am scheduled to be one of the next volunteers running the course here in London and hopefully, taking it to other countries in the future.  And, I was listening.        I am grateful that I learned to be a journalist a long time ago in writing school and although I’m rusty as heck, I am working those skills as much as possible.  The Dalai Lama event was one where I worked both my journalism skills and promotion skills.  Social media is a new kettle of fish as far as my writing and marketing training is concerned, and I’m having to learn as I go.     But I am grateful that the Universe put us together.  Just that morning I let her know I was going back to Canada and why I am going.  I needed to see her before I left.  She knew she would see me in a few hours – but I didn’t.  It was such a welcome and incredible surprise.  After the event, we went with Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard to Trafalgar Square for meditation.  We began with an OM and whether intended or not, the 45 minutes or so of the meditation became one great rolling eternal OM.  Now, although we were several hundred by the end of the meditation,  you have to understand that at the beginning, there were only a few dozen people there.  The rain was chucking down on us and I had no coat or umbrella.  But I chanted and chanted and chanted.  It felt good to do something that was so much a part of my life every other day, in New York. But what was most lovely about this meditation was that my friend, N- took hold of my arm and we were joined together throughout.  I thought about the fact that soon she, too, would be gone (but just to another country) and I would have another long distance best friend and I was so grateful that we had that experience – together.  I chanted for her happiness in her new life, even as I knew goodbye was coming.  For those 45 minutes in Trafalgar Square, N- and I shared a connection of Oneness that is unique.      

 

I am grateful for the kindness of strangers.  As I said, I was unprepared for the downpour and as I had my eyes closed, someone came close to me from behind, and covered me with their umbrella.  The rain stopped at one point and the umbrella went down and I wondered if my good Samaritan had left during the meditation.  And then a rainbow appeared above us.  One by one, meditators opened their eyes, tapped their friends to witness it and then the crowd cheered.  So much for meditation and Om’s!  We had manifested a rainbow for peace!  Spontaneously, people began to hug.  I turned around and a woman was standing nearby but separate and very present.  She looked at me and said – I kept you dry.  I hugged her and thanked her and told her that there are no small acts of service.  To be fair, she probably saved me from another chest infection and fight with pneumonia.

 

And coming back to where I started this tale, I am grateful for this refuge of writing and of practice.  Things are hellish at the moment, and it is when things are their worst that we need our practices the most (to paraphrase not only myself over the last 400 days, but – if you don’t believe me – the Dalai Lama said the very same thing, yesterday to 2000 people).

I  know it is worse for the person on their way out of this life, but it is also hard to witness and accept.   I cannot see where I am going or where I need to be going and  I can’t talk about it.  I tried to talk to a group of supportive friends and I cried three times tonight at the meeting.  I don’t mind sharing emotion in a safe space like that, but I need to contain it right now.  I’ve been here before and now is not the time for tears.  Now is the time for savouring.  For now, these tears must be kept private.

Ironically, it is with you – the worldwide web – that I can let myself cry.  For the last few weeks, with so much going on in my life and so many losses, my keyboard has been wet while I’m writing these posts.  That is a gift. I am grateful for the gift of this writing space, for this practice, and for your presence, dear reader.

I hope that these posts have not been depressing.  My hope is that they serve as a reminder that we can make it through difficult terrain.  Matthieu Ricard said yesterday that we Westerners want spirituality to be easy, simple, and – if at all possible – cheap.  I laughed.  It is really true of what I see around me.  We aim to force everything to the heights of spirituality without honouring and respecting what is soulful.  The true test of spirituality, he said, comes not in the good times, but in the bad.   I committed to ten thousand days of practice and we knew that they wouldn’t all be sunny; I have committed to the practice even through the darkest nights of the soul.

 

 

I hope that in some way, it is my service to you so that you will not feel alone as you struggle to find your way through the worst times in your life – with gratitude – with joy – with a sense of oneness and with the desire to remain of service.

 

And so…as always…I turn it over to you….

 

For what are you grateful, today?