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If Cameron wants to spread happiness, he should narrow the gap between rich and poor

Posted on 8 January 2012 | 7:01am

Thank you for all the nice comments on twitter about the Guardian piece yesterday, an extract from my new ebook, The Happy Depressive, which is out on Thursday. The extract focused on Philip Gould, and what I feel I had learned from knowing him, and from seeing him face up to death with such humility and insight.

As I say in the piece, I had been of the view long before Philip became ill that it is only as we near the end of our lives that we can truly decide whether we have lived happy ones. But his death certainly confirmed me in that view.

Among the comments, alongside similar comments in response to my blog of Friday confirming I had been going through a bout of depression, were a fair few saying it was ‘brave’ to be open about mental health issues. Well, if it helps someone else for someone like me to be open about depression, that is great but if I am being totally frank with you, it also helps me. The selfless part of me, again as I say in the ebook, wants to work with others to break down stigma and taboo surrounding mental illness. But the selfish part feels better in sharing problems when they arise.

It has been quite odd in a way, to have had so much negative coverage down the years for all sorts of things, and yet when it comes to admitting to mental illness – for which most people assume they are likely to be shunned – I have felt anything but. People are actually very nice about it and so, in the main, are the media.

I wasn’t surprised The Guardian went for the stuff about Philip, and I am not complaining. But the ebook is not just about personal relationships and personal issues. It is also goes into what politics and politicians can do on the happiness front. A lot is happening in this area.

Don’t worry, I have not gone soft, but I do think it is interesting that David Cameron has added happiness to the list of factors which have to be taken into account when policy makers are devising policy. It is quite a bold move at a time like this. It remains to be seen if he is serious in seeing this through but I am willing to take him at his word, and hope that he is. Because as I argue in The Happy Depressive, with plenty of evidence to back up the argument, if policymakers are serious about spreading happiness, the best way to do it is to narrow the gap betwwen rich and poor.

I publish a couple of graphs which show that wheras GDP per head has grown substantially, happiness has pretty much flatlined. When people are seeing their income rise to what might be seen as middle class levels, happiness rises alongside it. But further rises tend not to deliver extra happiness.

Regulars here will be well used to reading the comments of our Finnish friend Olli Issakeinen. He is quoted in the book, from the time he commented on a previous blog on happiness that ‘unhappiness seems to be the ultimate luxury.’

Money can’t buy me love and all that. On that happy note, off to Bristol to film for my documentary on why Brits drink so much!

  • Miggymoggs

    Have you seen the studies on happiness levels in the third world though? I haven’t researched it personally, but if I accept it on face value then it’s a case of money only contributes to happiness when you have some but want more. Where money is something to aspire to then of course it dictates. Where money is unreachable you must concentrate on other forms of security, like basic human needs and social interaction/community. Arguably these are the real deciders of happiness and money is mistaken here for providing the very things that can’t be bought, but must be invested in.

  • Michele

    I don’t suppose it’s possible to really narrow the gap between rich and poor as it would need caps on earnings from all possible sources and tracking money being paid abroad.

    We can find the poverty level much more easily; Cameron and Osbo need to prove to the country that they even understand how life is for the newly-poor; their wives could even be roped in to ensure that the experiments are true and helplessness is really experienced.  We know the sort of thing, it’s all been done before by other ‘celebs’. 

    It means living in the sort of place a working poor or newly benefits-dependent person would be, struggling to ensure rent or mortgage interest gets paid timeously so they don’t lose that home.

    They’d have no direct debits, should be using  pay-as-u-go phones and renting internet access.  They’d need to be going to the Job Centre daily and finding out just how many of those ads really are still available (I felt very guilty some time ago after receiving 70 calls about an ad long after it was filled because I simply couldn’t find out how to have it actually deleted from JC’s database).  It reminded me of an occasion in the early 90s when a single ad brought 230 responses, I didn’t even have time to open them all. 

    They’d soon realise that publicity about November’s much-vaunted ’70k retail vacancies’ was actually about Xmas temps) I doubt whether any of their bean counters even read the ads to see which have expiry dates anyway.

    As other blog OPs here have said, there’s too much tinkering around the edges and simply looking busy, as if a child learned how to please Mum.

  • Michele

    I’m not sure there’s any point in comparing ourselves to Bhutan btw; it’s hardly an open society and it’s odd to see some articles refer to it as a democracy!

  • Rosemary Bennett

    People and the media are nice about it because they know you primarily as a tough guy and you have been brace enough to show your fragile side, which is hard to do. Also mental health problems are the last taboo, as Antonio Horta-Osorio’s breakdown has shown. The comments by Lloyds chairman that it was not mental but “physical: overwork, sleep deprivation and exhaustion” and “very, very unlikely” to happen again were incredibly macho and naive. I do wish Horta-Orsorio well when he goes back to work tomorrow, and you too, of course, struggling through this bleak period. Look forward to your booze programme.      

  • Alexandrathrift

    Best wishes Alastair. I will buy your ebook which I see is a very good price…and I will borrow my son’s Kindle to read it. Be kind to yourself . Do enough, but not too much.

  • Mike909

    Really good excerpt in the Guardian – enjoyed – especially the ref to the “Get dead soon” wishes!

    I don’t think that Cameron is in touch with anyone “real” so we’ll just have to wait for him to be caught out

    Enjoy filming in Bristol – its nice down here! Hey I could buy you a pint…..

  • Dave Simons

    The Conservative Party has never seriously been about narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor, except maybe for vote-catching purposes. Quite the opposite. So there’s a fat chance of Cameron doing it – unless he leaves the Conservative Party, which he isn’t magnanimous enough to do – it is, after all, the party that looks after the interests of him and his ilk. I wouldn’t take an ex-marketing man at his word as far as I could throw him. I wish we could have some three-dimensional politicians instead of the current crop of cardboard cut-outs – all soundbite and image, no content. Why is such importance attached to Cameron’s utterances?
    For example, ‘There is such a thing as society. It just isn’t the same as the state’.  Who said it was? What an absolutely stupid thing to say, almost as stupid as saying ‘There is no such thing as society. Just individuals and families’. Yet the media and the pundits make a big deal out of these statements, as if something important has been said, when in reality damn all has been said that was not better left unsaid.

  • Anonymous

    I was going to ask or muse about what will be in the book, but what the hell I’ll probably buy it anyway.

    I enjoyed Alastair’s bit on the Jamie Oliver show Dream School last year, where he got the kids interested in campaigning. I am now wondering if there is a campaign I can join for mental health issues. Actually I think the answer is on this site somewhere isn’t it.Surely even sceptics can see that, unlike many illnesses, depression kills – so its got to be made public how bad it is.

    Can’t believe I’ve become a fan of Alastair’s!

  • Anonymous

    In other news, has anyone noticed that despite all the flak Ed has been taken about stupid things, he is making headway on the battle of ideas. The Cameroons are now trying to follow his “responsible capitalism” project outlined in his widely criticised conference speech.

    Goes to show that wiser heads like Alastair and Peter Oborne were right to say that in time this might look a whole lot better.

    P,s, As a relative newcomer, I wonder if in general off-topic posts are welcome here, if they are still related to AC, Labour, mental health… or not. I have already decided to ease up on the post count as it seems thats not what people do here. 

  • Anonymous

    Brilliant idea Michele.

    There was a great programme about this last year with Nadine Dorries and some labour, lib dem and another tory too. It was amazing how they were genuinely surprised by some things – the labour guy was a disgrace, he gave up.

    Also Matthew Parris did that brilliant one in the 1980s where he said he could live on benefits then went on Spotlight and couldn’t! Maggie sacked him then so he had to!His follow up show a few years back was great too.

    That brings me to my idea – I’d make the politicians live in those conditions anyway! Sorry Alastair!

  • ZintinW4

    The problem with ‘happiness’ as a concept is that it is easier to measure it retrospectively. Plus the things that make me unhappy aren’t necessarily the gift of Government. If they are I will vote for any party that will give Tranmere Rovers the resources to win the Premier League and enable me to shed half a stone in weight without any effort. But isn’t that also the problem about happiness? As a policy goal it is ego-centric and has little to do with community or broader social issues.

  • Anonymous

    Of course it’s possible to narrow the gap between rich and poor: it has been narrower in the recent past and has been widened by polcy decisions so it is obviously possible to narrow it again by policy decisions….. if you have the will.

  • Ehtch

    Cameron’s hollow tick-box political tactics again. And today he is holding his cabinet meeting in the Olympic Park – give me strength! What a chancer.

    The only reason Cameron comes out with all this stuff, without any following substantial action, is because of what his research team reads from online sources, including no doubt (cough!) this one. And then he responds with waffle with tory con-lines. Ah well, at least we have the net to find out quick what they are really up to, unlike ’79 back in the technological dark ages.

  • Michele

    You must be clueless about the ease with which earnings  ……choke …… I mean PAY… can be hidden.

  • Unopierro

    like new liebour did in its 13 years in power. don’t gee me the boak.