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date: 09 July 2020

(p. ix) Foreword

(p. ix) Foreword

There is a growing recognition that the goals governments have typically focused on, such as GDP, are only a means to an end, and that end is happiness. The great economist John Maynard Keynes said this in the 1930's, and more recently the UK's prime minister, David Cameron, and former French President Sarkozy's Commission on the measurement of economic and social progress have come to the same conclusion. It is no longer sufficient to measure economic progress; we must also consider social and environmental progress, and we must measure subjective well-being.

Among the individual governments that have begun to consider well-being as the most fundamental goal of human progress, Bhutan has shown extraordinary initiative. In 2011 the country's prime minister, Jigmi Thinley, played a key role in persuading the United Nations to adopt a “happiness resolution”, and in April of 2012, Bhutan hosted a United Nations “High Level Meeting on Happiness and Well-being”. I was honored to be among the participants. This meeting of fellow scholars and governmental, business, and spiritual leaders was so well attended that it exceeded the capacity of the General Assembly room of the UN. The entire group united around the idea of a new economic paradigm, and at the heart of this paradigm is human happiness. It is not the ephemeral happiness that some talk about, but rather what is described as “the deep abiding happiness that comes from living life in full harmony with the natural world, with our communities and fellow beings” (Royal Government of Bhutan, 2012, p. 89).

As those of us at the High Level Meeting worked to take this agenda forward, a host of exciting conclusions emerged. The main recommendations from the final report included the statement that “constructive and positive education [is] perhaps the most important facilitator of the mindset necessary to support an economic paradigm based on happiness and well-being” (Royal Government of Bhutan, 2012, p. 59).

An impressive body of research is helping us to understand the determinants of happiness and well-being. For example, we now know that genes play a certain role in well-being, but we also know that the early environment, which includes both parenting and education, is profoundly important. Happiness is a skill that we can learn, and while there is evidence that it can be learned at any stage in the life course, there is no better time to learn it than in those early years.

There are many positive psychological interventions, and many skills related to well-being which have been used to develop abiding happiness. One approach that has been shown to have lasting benefits across a wide range of well-being outcomes is mindfulness training. Mindfulness training is a secular program with roots in ancient philosophical traditions, which focuses on awareness of moment-to-moment experiences, in the mind, in the body, and in our immediate physical and social surroundings. Mindfulness is not just another positive psychology or well-being intervention—it is foundational to all other approaches, and augments their impacts. A sub-group at the UN meeting advised that we need to: “Teach (p. x) mindfulness widely to counteract the psychic hunger that causes materialism as the primary spirituality of our time” (Royal Government of Bhutan, 2012, p. 150). This recommendation is well supported by contemporary research, which not only shows that mindfulness has substantial and wide-ranging benefits for well-being, but also demonstrates that training in mindfulness enhances the effects of other interventions, such as coaching and cognitive behavioral therapy (e.g., Spence, Cavanagh & Grant, 2008). My own interest in well-being came from decades of research on aging. Originally I studied Alzheimer's disease and disability in old age, gathering data from tens of thousands of elderly people across the United Kingdom, and internationally. Because we were studying these phenomena at the population level, we had information from people right across the board—those who were doing badly, and those who remained in good health. I was repeatedly drawn to the large number of people who were aging well, and wondered what we might learn from them. An important clue came from one of the truly great minds in the field of population studies or epidemiology, Geoffrey Rose (Rose, 1992, 2008). He demonstrated that a tiny shift in the average symptoms of a disease at the population level would lead to major changes in both illness and exceptional health. For example, if you look at heart disease, the prevalence in the population is related to the average blood pressure in the population, or the average level of cholesterol. If you can reduce these symptoms for the average person, there will be far fewer people who actually develop the disease, and far more people who flourish.

This tells us that the risk of a disorder is not just an individual matter, based solely on genes, experiences, or coping styles. The risk of a disorder is related to what is happening to the population in which we live. A strategy that looks only at individuals will never succeed; what we need is a strategy that shifts the average for a whole population towards flourishing. We need to identify the underlying determinants of health and disorder, and change them for everyone. In the context of happiness, we therefore need to identify the major determinants of well-being, and shift the population toward mental flourishing (Huppert, 2009; Huppert & So, 2011)

The Oxford Handbook of Happiness is an important resource to help us move in this direction. The breadth of topics in the handbook surpasses what has traditionally been done in positive psychology. Furthermore, the cross-national perspectives found in this book will challenge our assumptions. Well-being is not the same for all people or all nations. This is important because when developing interventions, we need to think about the particular group for whom the interventions are being developed. The Handbook offers a nuanced approach to what well-being is all about, how we need to measure it, and what changes we are looking for. The scholar or practitioner dipping into this book is fortunate in gaining access to a marvelous wealth of knowledge and perspective in this field. He or she will have the opportunity to further the agenda that more and more people recognize as underpinning this endeavor: the achievement of deep, abiding happiness.

Felicia Huppert

Cambridge, England


(p. xi) References

Huppert, F. A. (2009). A new approach to reducing disorder and improving well-being. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4, 108–111.

Huppert, F. A. & So, T.T.C (2011). Flourishing across Europe: application of a new conceptual framework for defining well-being. Social Indicators Research, (Published online 15 December 2011, DOI: 10.1007/s11205-011-9966-7).

Rose, G. (1992). The strategy of preventive medicine. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Rose, G. (2008). Rose's strategy of preventive medicine (2nd ed., rev.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Royal Government of Bhutan (2012). The Report of the High-Level Meeting on Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm. New York: The Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Bhutan to the United Nations. Thimphu: Office of the Prime Minister.

Spence, G.B., Cavanagh, M.J. & Grant, A.M. (2008). The integration of mindfulness training and health coaching: An exploratory study. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 1(2), 1–19. (p. xii)