Free Thinking Festival 2010: Other people’s happiness

My eyes were drawn to this report on the Daily Mail website triumphantly announcing that the UK is ‘mediocre’ in a league table of ‘happiness’. Insodoing, it seems the Daily Mail has misunderstood both the definition of ‘happiness’ and indeed what the survey it bases the report was concluding.

Still, it makes for a good starting point.

The report referenced is the 2010 Legatum Prosperity Index. Sounds dry, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not that dry really. The UK really is 13th in the league table of … ‘prosperity’. A league table based on a great many rankings. Far too many to list at any rate. So go look at it yourself. The key findings are quite interesting. In short, happiness isn’t made by wealth necessarily but choice and opportunity. And other things too. Really. Go read it. It’s all open to interpretation anyway.

What’s interesting is the ‘personal freedom sub-index’. Basically, if us humans enjoy certain freedoms the positive experience which eminates from it will bleed into the community we occupy. Everyone’s a winner. And frankly, coming 15th out of 110 isn’t all that bad. If only we could come 15th in the Eurovision I’d be quite a happy chap. (Don’t worry, I’ll save the Eurovision for another blog post.)

But it got me thinking a bit more – inevitably – about happiness. Up until now I’ve spent most of my time thinking about what makes me happy. Only this evening at the end of a long day in which I battled with the usual pressures, I started dreaming (around about 4.45pm) of relaxing during the evening with a magazine, some TV or just a cup of tea. Simple pleasures you see. When I’m up against it or giving myself a hard time, its the simplest of things from which I derive pleasure. These are the things which make me happy. The things which transport me from my tiresome and sometimes destructive thought processes to a better, more contented place. That is happiness, as it brief as it sometimes can feel.

But what if I should be thinking of other people’s happiness? Where does indulgence in ones own happiness end and responsibility for other people’s happiness begin? And – at the risk of failing miserably at my new excursion into ‘cod philosophy’ – if we are to be responsible for other people’s happiness how exactly should we make that happen – do we impose or enable for example ? – and how many other people’s happiness are we essentially responsible for? I can barely take responsibility for my own happiness. If being responsible for others seems attractive now, is that in itself me just denying overcoming the barriers to my own sense of wellbeing?

Could someone let me know?

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