6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Richard Layard adds to the to sum of human happiness,
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This review is from: Happiness: Lessons from a New Science (Paperback)
Yes, and three cheers for him. He could have written a dry academic tome that would have bored the pants off most of us, thereby adding to the sum of human misery, but no, he practises what he preaches. He has written a jolly interesting book that has added to the sum of happiness. Which is not to say that this book lacks depth or thorough research. Clearly Layard has done his homework and given the matter a lot of thought. The book may be readable, each chapter beginning with a funny cartoon and a couple of pithy quotations, but this does not make it lightweight. Anyone wanting more meat to chew on can go to the footnotes and bibliography at the end, or look up the appendices online. How unlike those writers and scholars who seem to think that their erudition will go unrecognized if it is not couched in impenetrable language.
Layard's basic premise is that happiness is real, it can be measured, and it should be taken into account by economists and policy makers who at present are more obsessed with economic growth and GDP. As far as I'm concerned, he was knocking on an open door here. Why has our happiness in the West remained stagnant over the past sixty or more years while our economic wealth has skyrocketed? Some of Lyard's conclusions seem obvious to me, but perhaps not to everyone. But what added spice to this book for me were those conclusions that were not obvious and challenged some of my beliefs. For example, I'm no fan of self help books, religion or abortion, yet what do we find out? That self help books and religion can be shown to make people happier, and that the crime rate goes down once access to abortion becomes easier. And I wonder what lies behind the criticism that the book is full of political posturing. Layard may seem to lean slightly towards the left (depending on your own standpoint, I suppose), but on the whole he handles his material honestly; ideologies of both left and right come in for roughly equal amounts praise or criticism in so far as they add to or subtract from the sum of human happiness.
When I first saw this book I imagined that it might be, if not another self help book, at least one which concentrated on the psychological or 'spiritual' aspects of happiness. In fact Layard is a economist, and although he does draw on the findings of individual and social psychology, psychiatry and religion, the book is rooted in his background in economics, which, for me at least, gave it a few novel and enjoyable twists.
So read this book and be happy.