The idea that money brings happiness remains a very popular one, even though the evidence that this is a gross oversimplification of a very complex relationship has been around for a long time. Financial security can, of course, be a key factor in terms of well-being, as poverty and the anxieties it brings can have a very detrimental effect. Money can also buy power in some ways, and power can be important for well-being (just as powerlessness can be a considerable impediment to quality of life). But the idea that money can’t buy happiness is well established in classic and popular literature, cinema and drama. In fact, there is a strong argument that a focus on material wealth (whether successful in achieving it or not) can be highly detrimental, in so far as it distracts us from the wider and deeper pleasures of life. Perhaps we will only start to promote well-being in earnest when we move away from a simplistic focus on materialism.
A recent survey attempted to establish how happy Britain is. It was called the ‘National Well-being Programme’ and it showed regional differences in how contented people perceive themselves to be. For me this is no surprise. While the traditional approach to well-being is an individualistic one (atomistic, to use the technical term, as opposed to holistic), we need to look beyond such a narrow approach. The emphasis on happiness, rather than the broader concept of well-being, is indicative of such an individualistic approach. If, instead, we were to understand well-being in more holistic, sociological terms, it would be quite apparent why there would be significant regional differences, no doubt rooted in the sociological differences we have known to exist across regions for quite some time now. I am therefore left wondering how meaningful it is to explore individual happiness without giving giving much fuller consideration to the sociological factors involved.