Do we really know the art of happiness or are we artfully dodging it?

A wise man once said “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness

Compassion, particularly post-Francis, has been seen as a barometer for good care, enshrined in the 6Cs (care, compassion, competence, communication, courage and commitment) by Jane Cummings NHS England’s Chief Nursing Officer. So, if the giving and receiving of compassion increases levels of happiness, then is the NHS on the right track to support the health and well-being of not only its patients but it’s 1.4million staff as well?

But what exactly is happiness and how do you measure it?

Happiness is becoming an increasing measure across a wide variety of areas.  The CentreForum has just published its new report ‘The pursuit of happiness; a new ambition for our mental health’ (July 2014) http://www.centreforum.org/assets/pubs/the-pursuit-of-happiness.pdf which recommends we must, “prioritise the promotion and protection of wellbeing and mental and social capital of the nation.  The pursuit of happiness should be a goal of the government (p9).”  The report goes on to suggest that £13bn of the NHS budget is being spent on managing the physical manifestations of poor mental wellbeing, which would pay for the estimated budget gap seven times over.  It urges the government to make it a statutory requirement for Directors of Public Health to outline in a public record, their progress towards parity of esteem for physical and mental health.  However, can we and should we start to legislate for happiness?

The government seem to think so.  Three days ago, the Office of National Statistics published its proposed framework for the next edition of the Measuring National Well-Being (MNW) programme called Measuring Social Capital due to be published on 26 September 2014.  This framework was defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2013 and will provide an international comparative framework across the four domains of:

Personal relationships – ‘the structure and nature of people’s personal relationships’

Social network support – not how many blogs you read or Twitter followers you have but the ‘level of resources or support that a person can draw from their personal relationships’

Civic engagement – ‘the actions and behaviours that can be seen as contributing positively to the collective life of a community or society’

Trust and co-operative norms – ‘shared values that shape the way people behave towards each other and as members of society.’

So if these factors are considered important in the happiness stakes, how do we help our most vulnerable on the road to ‘happiness’?

The CentreForum report suggests that wellbeing is multi-factorial, as does the UN World Happiness Report from 2013. Wellbeing isn’t just a physical or mental health issue, but one that stems from housing, levels of social isolation, frequency of exercise, consumption of alcohol and recreational drug use, access to nutritious food, levels of education, contribution to society and financial security. It can’t be tackled with medication alone, and so it troubles me when I hear service user anecdotes such as the one cited in the CentreForum report “After a number of interviews with the Consultant psychiatrist, nurses, care team . . . not once did anyone ask me about the quality of my diet, question my alcohol consumption (around 40 pints of beer a week) or suggest I do some exercise. I was not once advised to go and hang out with my friends. They just wanted to know if I was suicidal, and could only offer medication—lithium—to help me.” Service User, Mental Health Commission Call for Evidence Survey; CentreForum p13 (2014).

In March 2014, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) published an infographic on what life is currently like in the UK. This highlighted that over 77% of people had someone to rely on and 58% of people were happy with their health.



More starkly this means that almost a quarter of people in our society do not have someone to rely on. This is most likely to be our most vulnerable and almost half of the population do not have good health, which probably reflects an increased use of A&E and services in general, which is causing huge strain in our flat cash years. In reality there is likely to be an overlap between those people who are experiencing financial difficulty, do not have someone to rely on and are not well.

Happiness is important for everyone no matter who we are or what our circumstances.  We all crave human interaction and we can all make our lives and those of someone else just a little bit better by being more compassionate, thinking about our reactions to others and taking a few minutes each day to be grateful for what we do have rather than wishing our lives away about the things that we don’t.  Supporting a better society and collectively helping our vulnerable as well as ourselves.  That way we can know the art of happiness rather than artfully dodging it.

And the final word should go to the wise man himself…….

“So let us reflect on what is truly of value in life, what gives meaning to our lives, and set our priorities on the basis of that. The purpose of our life needs to be positive. We weren’t born with the purpose of causing trouble, harming others. For our life to be of value, I think we must develop basic good human qualities-warmth, kindness, compassion. Then our life becomes meaningful and more peaceful-happier.”



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