Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

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.

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4 Responses to “Swinson Makes Surbiton Happy”

  1. Has there ever been a “happiness” election campaign? I am looking forward to that day!

  2. Gavin Webb said

    I certainly agree with Jo that the pursuit of happiness is the goal of every individual but I don’t think she should worry about it being perceived as fluffy. The real problem lies with those who believe that pursuing happiness is hedonistic and therefore Thatcherite – an accusation that I’ve had thrown at me on more than one occasion.

    One other caveat to remember is that happiness is an individual concept, therefore, to help people become happy we should be campaigning for smaller government, less tax and less State interference in peoples’ private lives. I’m happy to say that Make It Happen travels to some degree in the right direction. What shouldn’t be done is to create a specific government policy on making people happy as inevitably the Government – whatever colour – will make a hash of it. Let individuals choose for themselves their own paths to happiness.

  3. Steph said

    Jo is a genius and my personal hero, and I wish she wouldn’t fear seeming fluffy when she’s talking more sense than any other politician I can name.

  4. Bikram Adhikari said

    If it is about the GNH from Bhutan then I say it can be achieved. But British government has to apply it the same way the Bhutanese government did it. By enforcing it.
    Just to remind you all that Happiness is supposed to be the state of mind, it is very personal but in Bhutan you are forced to be happy.
    I personally think the English civilization has no place for this.

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