Chris and I pretty much agreed that politics alone wouldn’t bring in utopia. I still think this – personal trauma and our relationships aren’t much affected by the laws that politicians past. But now I want to fudge this a bit.
This is because just as I was having this discussion I started reading Affluenza by Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss who at the time they wrote the book were at a left-wing (well what’s left of the left-wing these days – let’s call it the progressive side of politics) think tank called the Australia Institute. (The institute is still in existence and producing some of the most interesting social research I know of. For instance they identified ‘downshifters’ in Australia – those who had made a voluntary reduction in their life. Over the previous five years (excluding those who had retired) this was 25% of the workforce. The implications of this to me seem huge – and entirely off the party political radar.
Affluenza: when too much is never enough, is a book about materialism and how it is failing to make our lives anymore enjoyable. Why it is relevant to bringing in utopia is that they deal with politics and public policy as a way of affecting people’s happiness. Which I thought was pretty much futile.
At the end of the book they provide eight points on what governments can do to make people happier (pp.218-224). They are:
1. Measure what matters – that is people’s wellbeing rather than money.
2. Provide fulfilling work. This means favouring in legislation such things as job security, reducing unemployment, encouraging maternity and paternity leave.
3. Reclaim time. Limiting work hours, providing for productivity gains to be traded for reduced work hours rather than just money.
4. Re-do education. Focusing on developing people rather than training them for job slots (which may well no longer exist by the time they graduate).
5. Investing in early childhood. All the research shows that this returns extraordinary dividends.
6. Discourage materialism and promote responsible advertising. E.g. outlaw advertising on children’s TV.
7. Encouraging dramatically a shift to renewables. Having urban planning that preserves trees.
8. Build communities and relationships. Encouraging volunteering and supporting carers.
Any of which would move us closer to a better way of living.
This is a pretty impressive list. It certainly demonstrates to my mind that public policy can impact our private wellbeing.
And I still think that the private is more powerful than the public for our individual experience. With good friends and support people can flourish even in difficult situations but it is very hard for public policy to make up for personal trauma.
So, this book has caused to see more of the possibilities that public policy has for making our lives better. I do recommend that you read it. It is a very thorough demolition of the idea that more money will make us happier (after basic needs are met). It is well written, clear and accessible.
What do you think? Do you think that governments have a role in promoting our individual happiness? Some people regard this with horror – that government has not business trying to do this kind of thing (I understand this view and have a good deal of sympathy for it). Would you like to see the kind of changes that Hamilton and Denniss outline in their eight points? I’d love to hear your views.
Would you like to feel less stressed?
Could you do with more joy in your life?
The answer is living authentically. Buy the book or sign up for the course now from my Living Authentically website.
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