8. Feb, 2020

The Pursuit of Happiness

Meet the 85-year-old happiness economist who wants to transform our (UK) national wellbeing

what does make us happier, a question that economists became increasingly interested in during the Nineties. Layard was one of those economists, and his advice contributed to policies such as Tony Blair’s “New Deal”, which sought to reduce unemployment through training, and Gordon Brown’s expansion of psychological therapy. Thanks in part to the publication in 2005 of Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, Layard, who had been created a Labour life peer four years earlier, became something of a public figure. He has consistently called for governments to pay more attention to their citizens’ self-reported well-being, and this school of thought reached the mainstream with David Cameron’s creation of a national happiness index.

Four rules for personal well-being

Richard Layard’s guidance for better living

1. Be aware that you’re not the prisoner of your thoughts. Observe your thoughts, and lay the negative ones on one side, as if they’re genuine phenomena rather than things that have to possess you.

2. Develop your inner self. Etty Hillesum, the Dutch diarist who was killed in Auschwitz, called this “preserving the god within”. Develop positive routines, such as meditation and mindfulness, for achieving calmness of mind and deepening your empathy. In relationships, focus on maintaining your positive feelings about your partner.

3. Find things you can do for other people that you would find rewarding. This is one of the most commonly underestimated way of improving our own well-being, quite apart from the benefits it provides other people.

4. Take proper care of your body. Physical health is second only to mental health in determining our happiness. Sleep properly and play sports, whatever your age.

Can We Be Happier? Evidence and Ethics, by Richard Layard with George Ward, is out now (Pelican, £22)