Friday October 12, 2007


Although it is only October, I have already been planning what philosophy courses I would like to teach in 2008, and a few days ago decided that it might be fun to spend ten weeks looking at the philosophy of happiness.

So when I picked up the newspaper today, I was interested to see that a recent report on children aged seven to eleven in the UK shows that kids of this age over here suffer from a “pervasive anxiety” and high levels of stress (see, for example, the BBC report). Coupled with the Unicef report earlier this year that shows that children in the UK are at the bottom of the list for “child well-being” (see the article here) one has to wonder what is going wrong.

Of course, it should be said that happiness is difficult to measure, and we should also be aware of the dangers of having an overly romantic view of childhood. I, too, remember staggering levels of pervasive anxiety during my own childhood. Nevertheless, the report does not seem to be particularly good news, and the initial response to the report seems far from promising. When asked about the findings, a spokeswoman from the Department for Children, Families and Schools responded as follows:

The vast majority of children go to better schools, enjoy better health, live in better housing and in more affluent households than they did ten years ago.

What the measure for “better schools” is, I do not know. And perhaps it is true that housing and health have improved over the last ten years – although with enormous growth in childhood obesity in the UK, I’m not sure about the last of these. Nevertheless, even if this is a correct assessment of the situation, it hardly touches the heart of the problem. Health, good housing, affluence: these are all good things, perhaps. But whether they are sufficient conditions for happiness (indeed, whether they are even necessary conditions) is a whole other question. And if the governmental response to genuine concerns such as these is only in terms of such an impoverished view of happiness, then the prognosis is not at all good.

# · pramila

Aaah! I feel a smile arise [a physical manifestation of happiness?]- there will soon be a ‘national strategy for happiness’, a ‘happiness tsar’ etc. Unhappiness, like obesity, is a burden on the state? It must be abolished! I see many therapies emerging [laughter therapy has now to be aimed at children, so they can all laugh like hyeanas, until the tears roll]. Perhaps, the cause is the ‘pursuit of happiness’? Or is it the avoidance of what are uncomfortable truths? An ancient story comes to mind, of a young prince shielded from the miseries of life, given all that his heart [or rather the hearts of those around him desired], and yet bravely set forth to confront these harsh realities and emerge with a smile that conveys the bliss of being at peace with the way things are. Perhaps, we will have to wait to see if this smile is a delusion, whether it is a work of numskulls/dumskulls, of course we will have to wait until enough poor animals have had their brains prodded in the interests of a ‘scientific/materialistic’ explanation of what ‘happiness’ is. Perhaps, we are so clever, we need to always re-think what is the core, the fundamental truth within spiritual teachings that invite not stifle individual exploration into questions of happiness and such like.

# · Cardozo

I have always been suspicious of studies that purport to measure happiness, especially because part of what creates anxiety is convincing oneself that one is happy when one is actually wretched.

# · Anukriti

Competition has increased a lot and children are often stressed out because of this.

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