One of the central aims of the programme is that government policy should increasingly focus on wellbeing. The debate over whether or not happiness is a proper objective for society is a basic philosophical issue. In the second edition of Happiness, published in 2011, Richard Layard devotes a new Part 3 to this issue, arguing that it is.
Much of our work has focused on this aim, together with issues regarding its implementation, in particular: measurement of wellbeing. Work that is focused on policies for mental health is summarised in the Mental Health section.
Worldwide, there is a search for new models of progress. The OECD has for
some years been attempting to redefine progress, and in July last year the UN
General Assembly advocated greater priority for policies that promote happiness. In 2012, the United Nations held a high-level conference on what this involves, which saw the launch of the
World Happiness Report.
Richard Layard, Jeff Sachs and John Helliwell co-edit the reports - which have
been published in 2012, 2013, 2015 and an update in 2016. Professor Layard also chaired the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Health and Wellbeing, which produced a report at Davos in January 2012,
WellBeing and Global Success. The
CEP Wellbeing programme also now acts as the Cross-Cutting Evidence Group in the newly-funded
UK What Works Centre for Wellbeing.
Commission for Wellbeing
Richard Layard was on the Commission for Wellbeing Policy chaired by Gus O'Donnell which aimed
to set out how wellbeing policy could actually work (including new forms of cost-benefit analysis, together with some obvious new policy priorities). Its report,
Wellbeing and Policy, was launched in 2014. Gus O'Donnell also wrote a chapter on wellbeing and policy in the World Happiness Report 2013.
Happiness and public policy: a challenge to the profession
In an earlier paper, Richard Layard argues that economists need to reform public economics theory to reflect the fact that despite large increases in income over the past decades, people are no happier. He calls for economists to incorporate the findings of modern psychology into their models, while retaining the rigour of cost-benefit frameworks that are a key strength of the subject.
Paul Dolan, Richard Layard and Rob Metcalfe
wrote a CEP special report in which they proposed the measures later adopted by
Office for National Statistics and the
OECD as standard measures of subjective wellbeing (SWB). The modern science of happiness enables us to measure people's quality of life in meaningful ways - reported happiness is well-correlated with objective measurements in the brain and with the kinds of factors, like unemployment, which we would expect to matter. The aim is to provide a fuller picture of how society is doing by supplementing existing economic, social and environmental measures.
Paul Dolan and Georgios Kavetsos (2012) study how subjective wellbeing reports differ by mode of survey administration. Using data from the 2011 Annual Population Survey in the UK, they find that individuals consistently report higher SWB over the phone compared to face-to-face interviews. They also show that the determinants of SWB differ significantly by survey mode. They conclude that we must account for mode of administration effects in research into SWB and its determinants.
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