Taken from preface by Simon Griffiths:
In 961, reflecting on a long and seemingly successful life, Abdul
Rahman iii, Caliph of Cordoba, wrote:
I have now reigned above fifty years in victory or peace; beloved
by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my
allies. Riches and honours, power and pleasure, have waited
on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been
wanting to my felicity. In this situation, I have diligently numbered
the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my
lot: they amount to fourteen.
edward gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (electric book Company, 2001), Volume V, 401.
Two weeks of happiness in a lifetime of abundance is pretty scant.
More than 1,000 years later the Caliph’s gloomy reflections are
more relevant than ever before, and are mirrored in two related
questions that run through the chapters in this book.
First, why are we no happier now than we once were (or to
use the language of the social scientists, why is ‘subjective wellbeing’ no higher)? even in recession, most of us in the west are far
wealthier than at any time in previous decades. between 1957 and
2006, the UK’s gDP per person almost trebled in real terms, rising
from £6,960 to £19,978.
Roughly speaking, orthodox economics
equates a rise in the level of purchasing power with an increase
in the wellbeing of a society.
Yet, during the same period, the
proportion of people in the UK who said that they were “very
happy” fell from 52% to 36%.
other surveys present a slightly less
pessimistic picture of wellbeing trends, but in almost all cases they...
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