We all want to have a sense of psychological well-being, that is, we want to be happy. So what do we do to gain happiness? We work harder. We buy lottery tickets. We invest. We do anything we can to improve our economic well-being, because we believe it translates directly into happiness. Furthermore, we do this as individuals and as a society.
Over the past half-century developed countries have made gigantic economic gains, based at least in part on the premise that economic well-being produces happiness. The movie with Will Smith, “The Pursuit of Happiness,” epitomizes this view.
Unfortunately, over the last half-century the evidence is that there has been zero increase in national happiness among the developed countries.
Researchers at the University of Warwick, Great Britain, in studies involving thousands of people, found that a four-month course of psychological therapy had a huge effect on psychological well-being. In fact, they calculated that it would take an increase of $48,000 in income to achieve the same increase in happiness that came from $1500 worth of therapy. Their conclusion: “The research therefore demonstrates that psychological therapy could be 32 times more cost effective at making you happy than simply obtaining more money.”
It is a sad fact, that in the developed countries, including Canada and the United States, government spending on mental health services has declined, not increased. Access to psychologists and trained counsellors has decreased.
Locally, large sums of money are being spent on the 2010 Winter Olympics. It is seen, probably correctly, as an investment in economic stimulus. However, BC governments of the 1990s and 2000s have reduced “spending” on mental health services to save money. Mental health dollars are treated as an expense, not an investment.
If our primary collective goal is economic growth, then we are on course. If on the other hand our goal is collective happiness, we as a society are going about it in an extremely cost-ineffective manner.
I support economic growth; it is essential to maintain our place on the world stage. However, individually and collectively we need to find a better balance if we want to increase our happiness.
To achieve balance, change will have to come about at many levels, not just at the government level. Courts and media, for example, will have to change. When the court makes a financial award to someone for “pain and suffering,” it makes the news. But what if the court were to award access to as much therapy as needed, including travel costs? That would not be newsworthy. And worse, with the current collective mindset of ‘money trumps all,’ the plaintiff might even feel that he or she had lost the case.