How to be happy

The government wants us to be happy and well. So now GPs should be prescribing country walks as medicine for those suffering from depression (actually, it’s called an ‘ecotherapy’) and happiness lessons for school children.

I am not going to do a rant about it all being common sense etc, etc because I do understand that the study on country walks, was looking at non-chemical responses to an illness that by its very nature leads the suffers to not believe that anything can improve their life, let alone something like a bit of fresh air. They are therefore are unable to apply such a self help approach without prompting. I am a great fan of cognitive therapies and this one sounds much better than filling someone full of drugs.

But it doesn’t take much to imagine how we’ll soon be getting leaflets through the door and adverts on TV about the anti-depressive benefits of a walk in the park.

What this has a whiff of, and the teaching happiness directive from a government advisor reeks of, is the habit of this Labour Government, promulgated by Blair, Brown and practically every member of the Labour Party I’ve ever met, of trying to legislate for human behaviour.

For some people this does lead them to wander off ranting about the glories of common sense (or maybe that’s just my Step-Dad!!) but what those rants fail to do is find a solution to the problem...which is, for the Labour Government at least, how to ensure that everybody applies the benefits of collective common sense to their lives.

So, Labour takes a typical process driven response which is to ensure that everybody follows the best practice route to achieve happiness. Rather like I, as a project manager, tend to follow a recognised project management approach to ensure the correct outcome for any change I am attempting to bring about is positive.

Many companies and organisations and, indeed, the Government make it ‘policy’ for their employees to follow these project management processes as otherwise they would have to rely on wisdom, experience and talent… which may or may not be there!

And the Government is trying to make it their policy that we too follow the correct process to deliver ‘happiness’ and ‘well being’.

They have to channel the implementation of these polices through the health service, schools and the police as even they cannot currently reach into our homes and make us do it for ourselves; hence why the responsibility for producing happy children now seems to be the responsibility of the teacher and not the parent.

So far, so logical; if not entirely common sense-ical.

But of course, what this betrays is the fact that the Labour party is pretty much convinced that we have neither the wisdom, talent nor experience to be happy or well human beings.

They do not trust us, and so, they step in and sort it all out for us.

Ten years of not being trusted to get on with things has created in many people a culture of being receivers of aid – it is not our responsibility to sort our problems out but the government’s. This is the nanny state in action and all coming on top of the previous 18 years of Tory ‘personal responsibility’, in other words responsibility for yourself, and maybe your family, but no one else.

As a civil libertarian I am all for a small government and am keen to be as free as possible to follow my own path to happiness and take advice from whom I choose on how to get there…if, indeed, that’s my aim.

But I, like many others, am concerned about reports that our children are the unhappiest in the OECD countries, that anti-depressant drugs are being prescribed more than ever before and that there are teenagers living in my community for whom the value of a human life is less than their pride at not being ‘cut up’ by another’s’ car on the Walworth Rd.

So, it is not enough to rail against the nanny state and leave it at that.

Firstly, we should not get it out of proportion; it is clear that good, well behaved and happy children and human beings do not make the news.

Secondly, we have to look to ourselves and take responsibility not just for ourselves but for our community. And. that, is why I find Liberal Democracy so compelling. At its philosophical heart it satisfies not just my need for freedom but also my desire to be free within a community.

The personal responsibility that I take on is not just a compact with the state but also with my neighbours and fellow human beings. By sucking up all the power into the centre and issuing policies on how to behave and what to do the Government undermine the local community and the personal responsibility within that compact.

Westminster politicians and the government do have a role to play and that is to give the power back to local communities and leave it to them. Of course, this requires them to trust people and communities which is why Labour will never do it, no matter how Gordon bleats on about personal responsibility because they will never be able to believe that they don’t know best, including on how to be happy.


Tristan said...
14 May 2007, 22:34:00

I'd like to be free in a community, I'd also like to choose my own community...

I was apalled by some posters I saw at Blackhorse Road tube station - 'Waltham Forest, 250,000 people, one community'. What total rubbish. We are a community of many communities, our communities we associate in cross the borders of Waltham Forest, even leave the country in some cases.

I also disagree with the idea of a contract with the state- I was born into this state, I made no contract...

I see a lot of problems stemming from the state seeking to take over the functions of society.
This, combined with the idea of rights without the counterbalance of responsibility, undermines society.
And combine that with the lack of opportunity (something I'm minded to attribute to the collectivist view of society) and you have a potential disaster.

Labour and the Tories don't recognise this however. They now seek to undermine rights and further infantalise people. The LibDems have a big opportunity to push a vision of rights and responsibility, of individuals interacting with each other in community and society. An individualist view, but not the harsh view of Thatcher.
A society which offers opportunity and does not hold people back.

I hope we take the chance...

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