UK Happiness Index dips with Focus on Economic Prosperity

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A new report from University of Warwick blames a focus on material prosperity for mental health decline seen in Europe. Despite “fast cars” and “hot showers” Andrew Oswald, professor of behavioural science at Warwick Business School says, all is not well psychologically” in Western societies.

Focus on Economic Growth Pointless for Happiness

Oswald warns it’s pointless for governments to focus on economic growth when people are just becoming more distressed and pressured, citing statistics that 15 percent of people in the UK suffer from some sort of mental disorder.

In his paper, “Emotional Prosperity and the Stiglitz Commission”, Oswald writes, “we should now be measuring a nation’s emotional prosperity rather than its economic prosperity (that is, we ought to focus on the level of mental well-being not the number of pounds in people’s bank accounts).”

Oswald points to the health benefits of happiness that include lower stress, increased immunity, and lower rates of hypertension. “Social-science researchers, including industrial relations researchers, economists, and psychologists, are likely to be sympathetic to some version of the idea that human well-being matters in itself – perhaps as a, or even the, goal of a society.”


Rather than presenting new findings, Oswald writes, “For social and behavioural scientists as a group, the essay’s principal argument is that mental well-being can be measured reasonably persuasively and that there is evidence that its level is declining.” He notes the intent is to “communicate some of the empirical results that have emerged recently in a new literature that spans journals from economics to medicine.”

He warns European governments can no longer ignore the fact that happiness is declining and the time has come to place more emphasis on “emotional prosperity”. The term is used by Warwick to replace the traditional terms “Gross Domestic Product, of pecuniary prosperity” used by Stiglitz Group in their 2009 report addressing the inadequacy of GDP for measuring economic performance, but even more importantly, “the relevance of thèse figures as measures of societal well-being. »

Warwick suggests past studies showing modern work puts pressure on people, causing a decline in happiness. Another reason for decline in the happiness index is that people think they know what makes them happy and make bad choices that don’t do the trick. He also suggests, with economic growth comes a neutrality from the status quo – "unfortunately, where having two BMWs was unusual, eventually it becomes the norm and thus there is potentially a kind of generalised neutrality -- a sort of washing-out effect of the supposed benefits of economic progress."

Oswald concludes that political debate about material prosperity from economic growth should be replaced with more discussion about happiness that comes from emotional prosperity, citing multiple sources of information showing mental health decine and poor health from focusing on economic growth.

Warwick News and Events


Please, click to subscribe to our Youtube Channel to be notified about upcoming health and food tips.