flowing motion

Happiness is managed like clean hands – regular washing?

Posted on: April 5, 2010

Happiness, big media and blocked comment

Today, Hamish McRae wrote an article in the Independent on happiness and what national survey of happiness tell us about the role of government in our live.

I wrote a comment only to find comments partly blocked off.  So here it is.

Economist should find the maths of happiness easy

Basically, I suggested that Mr McRae might like to to look up the more sophisticated models of happiness.  Economist should find them easier to follow than most and might take the lead in an informed debate on happiness.

Then I followed through trying to explain the implications of using Lorenz equations to understand happiness by likening happiness to clean hands.

Lorenz equations and Losada’s model of happiness

You might like to Google Losada’s work on happiness and review the mathematical model underlying his thinking.  Happiness surveys presume that happiness is a linear phenomenon where happiness is more-or-less and can be measured as a fixed point with an error score.

More sophisticated views of happiness see it as a phase state (fractal type) defined by a handful of variables linked recursively to each other.  In this model, a fixed point (the measure of happiness above) would indicate severe mental illness.  In other words, someone who is resolutely cheerful despite the circumstances is ill.

Managing happinesss (and unhappiness)

As one commentator said, you are possibly writing about unhappiness.   We know how to create that.  Simply have people reeling from petty difficulties all day long with little respite and they will sink into misery.

Hence the buffering techniques such as gratitude diaries and appropriate ways to deal with distress (funerals, grieving etc.)

Just as hands get dirty and must be washed, our lives have misfortune which must be dealt with.   But misfortune isn’t dealt with by ignoring it just as dirty hands aren’t dealt with ignoring it.

A gratitude diary works like the washing of hands putting dirt where it belongs and reminding us of the pleasure of clean hands.  We know our hands will get dirty again but that is the cyclical process of much of life.

Getting involved in the national debate on happiness

Anyway, economists should grasp the Lorenz equations  easily and might add to a more informed public discussion of happiness.

The rest of us can experience the management of happiness in simple ways: mourning and grieving for what has past, keeping a gratitude diary, focusing on what goes well and not what goes badly.   These alone stop us sinking into misery and spreading it around.

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