The goal of politics: making people happy

Politicians need to put happiness at the core of their agendas, argues Ludvig Lindström, founder of 'the world's first utilitarian organization', the Sweden-based Charity International.

The concept of happiness has been getting increasing attention from both politicians and the public. For example, the British government’s Whitehall Wellbeing Working Group has proposed a ‘happiness index’ to help form policy.

Sweden has not gone as far, although some individual politicians are beginning to consider the value of happiness as a policy goal. After all, what is, ultimately, the goal of politics? Is politics about making our country economically better equipped and keeping inflation down? Or maybe this kind of politics has run its course.

Evidence suggests that in the western world, economic growth increased people’s happiness up until the 1960s. After that, the correlation weakens; since the mid-1970s, GNP per capita has continued to rise while happiness levels have stagnated and even decreased slightly. This is made clear by the British government report ”Life Satisfaction: the state of knowledge and implications for government”.

Despite this, political majorities continue to support economic growth. Either they hold a misguided belief that this will increase happiness or they simply don’t care about their consituents’ happiness.

The truth is that the political decisions of today are not based on research on what creates the best consequences for the world. Politicians are hypnotized by economic growth as measured by GNP even though, according to happiness research, entirely different factors affect our well-being. Meanwhile, in other countries, people die from wars and simple infectious diseases, animals are tormented and the environment is destroyed. Do not politicians have the same ethical responsibility for all individuals, regardless of in which country they are in, and regardless of whether they live today or will live hundreds of years from now?

Happiness-oriented politics is nothing new. As early as the eighteenth century, the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham argued that maximizing society’s happiness should be the formal goal of policy.

Even though not much has happened on that front since the 1700s, there is a gleam of light. Just over half a year ago, the world’s first utilitarian organization, Charity International, was founded. According to its original definition, utilitarianism is the ethical doctrine that considers the moral worth of an action to be determined solely by its contribution to society’s total happiness.

Like many utilitarian philosophers today, Charity International supports this definition. On October 27-28, Charity International is hosting a happiness conference in Gothenburg, Sweden. This happiness conference is the first of its kind and has attracted Members of Parliament, happiness researchers, philosophers, economists and representatives of charities from all over the world.

The main purpose of the conference is to create a forum which will continuously create blueprints indicating how we can, as efficiently as possible, minimize suffering and maximize happiness in the world. This forum will be lead by Charity International in cooperation with happiness researchers, philosophers, economists, politicians, and representatives from charities all over the world. Hopefully, this conference, and Charity International, will be a positive influence on the future direction of the world’s politics.

Ludvig Lindström

President Charity International