mortal bliss


A few decades ago, philosophers, economists and scientists didn’t pay much attention to happiness. They left that to the likes of comedian Ken Dodd, who famously sang that it was “the greatest gift that I possess”. Today, however, the lyrics of that chirpy ditty are virtually indistinguishable from the key claims of positive psychology – the flourishing “new science of happiness”. “Don’t count my money, count my happiness,” sang Dodd, explaining that “Happiness is nothing but a frame of mind,” something he “thanks the Lord” for. His lyrics may be folksy in style but the content encapsulates the essence of positive psychology. In 1998, the discipline was more or less unknown, until Martin Seligman, the then president of the American Psychological Association, began promoting the message that psychology needed to get over its historic obsession with what made people feel bad and start thinking about what made them feel good instead. His 2002 book, Authentic Happiness, became an international bestseller. But perhaps more significant, politically, was Lord Richard Layard’s Happiness: Lessons from a New Science (2005). Layard is not a psychologist but an economist, and his service as the the British government’s “happiness tsar” has taken positive psychology beyond influence to the heart of power. Its prescriptions lie behind a range of measures, from the huge increase in NHS-funded cognitive behavioural therapists to the forthcoming provision of mental health co-ordinators in Job Centres.

more from Julian Baggini at the FT here.