18 January 2011

In Pursuit of Happiness

As a frequent traveler, flying last year proved a little bit more difficult than normal. When the ash cloud formed, I realised how much life in this country (and many others) is dependent on planes running on schedule. The snow chaos in December at Heathrow was a snapshot of the number of people who can be in the air at any one time.

The thought a few years ago of a third runway filled me with horror - I live on the Heathrow pathway and see planes arrive every thirty seconds - why do we need more planes in the sky?

Why does everything need to expand and everyone's economies need to grow?

There is a fixation in business with the fact that if you're not growing, you 're obviously standing still and therefore - that's bad! So we must expand, expand, search for new markets, develop new products. And the voluntary sector breathes similar air - driven by the widespread policy of funding bodies of supporting "new activities" it feels like organisations need to constantly re-invent themselves or, at least, appear to be doing so. My direct experience in this sector is limited to arts funding, but I'm sure other charities also find the need to renew their project offering and activities in order to pursue their aims.

I'm not against growth and know that sometimes, growing or changing are the only route to survival but surely there is merit in achieving happiness or success through following a horizontal path?

I think much unhappiness and stress is created by the notion that we need to get better/richer/smarter/more successful more you-name-it, all the time. (And in the freelance world, you would also need to be "busy".)

For a start, worldwide continuous growth is making demands on a planet with finite resources. We have no points of reference to alert us about how it might all end. And, to go back to my earlier point, the forces of nature are still capable of halting our everyday lives without warning.

And I really don't think that this "growth mentality" coupled with the tendency to allow others to measure our own "success" is doing our mental health any good. The popularity of Wellbeing programmes together with the recent trend of governments' and commercial organisations' intent on measuring happiness must be reflecting a widespread concern that, in general, we have got our priorities wrong. But don't take my word for it - I'll leave you with a quote from the Radio 4 podcast that inspired this post.

"When you look at economies like the UK and America, and the other advanced industrialised economies, even though those economies keep getting bigger and bigger, over the last 3/4/5 decades, actually they've stopped delivering higher levels of life satisfaction and wellbeing."

Quote from Andrew Simms (New Economics Foundation) speaking in Radio 4's podcast In Business - Growing Pains

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