Happiness in the moral maze

The more we try to create it, the more elusive it seems to become

On BBC Radio’s Moral Maze this week, we tackled happiness. We all presumably want it. But what exactly is it? Well, no-one seemed to know — or to be more precise, all our witnesses defined it differently.

The peg for our discussion was a suggestion by neuroscientists at University College, London that the answer could lie in the equation: (t)=w0 +w1∑j=1tγt −jCRj +w2∑j=1tγt −jEVj +w3∑j=1tγt −jRPEj.

This did not make us Mazers happy. Fortunately, we didn’t have to deconstruct that particular formula. Instead, we explored the paths we take to find this elusive concept. Does our society set too much store by the pursuit of happiness? Is happiness an end in itself, or does it derive as a by-product from other stuff like meaning and purpose? Does Gwyneth Paltrow add to the gaiety of the world, or does her Goop “wellness” brand make us feel faintly ill? And should governments get involved in boosting national well-being, or is that a contradiction in terms?

My co-panellists were Giles Fraser, Ella Whelan and Ash Sarkar. Our witnesses were Dr Andy Cope, self-styled “doctor of happiness” who runs positivity training courses; Dr Ashley Frawley, senior lecturer in public health at Swansea university; Sir Anthony Seldon, campaigner for well-being in schools and universities; and William Davies, sociology professor at Goldsmiths, London.

You can listen to the show here, if you have access to BBC Sounds.

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