Swinson Makes Surbiton Happy
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 22nd July, 2008
Jo Swinson, MP for East Dunbartonshire, took an unusual tack at the Poppadom and Politics organised by Kingston Liberal Democrats in Surbiton this evening, when she talked about happiness. All too often, she argued, politicians concentrate on GDP rather than people’s sense of well-being. Britain’s GDP has risen three-fold since 1973, but does that mean the British people are happier? All the evidence suggests they are not. The Buddhist mountain kingdom of Bhutan does talk about happiness as a cornerstone of government policy (though Bhutan’s Nepalese minority, many of whom live in refugee camps, might query some aspects of that). Jo asked, ‘How can we measure happiness?’ And ‘What can we do to be happier?’ Wealth or material goods are certainly not the whole answer. The quality of personal relationships is important, but so too our work/life balance. As she said, more and more people spend longer in the office and longer commuting to work than they used to, adding to stress. Depression and other stress-related conditions are increasingly problems of affluent societies. But even if we have learnt better to deal with preventive medicine and healthier living so far as physical health is concerned, mental health only comes onto the agenda when people already have a problem. Jo realises that there is a danger that a politician — particularly a young woman politician — talking about happiness might be considered ‘fluffy’. But from the reaction of the people present this evening, it was clear most of us grasped the point that happiness is more important than most of the things that get debated on the floor of the House of Commons.