Is Greece ready for a dose of happiness?

Tuesday 25 October, 7.30pm until 9.00pm, Hellenic American Union, Massalias 22, 10680, Athens, Greece

The debate will be in English.

Citibank’s 2005 advertising campaign in Greece - Η ευτυχία γράφεται με ε όχι με € (‘Happiness is written with an ‘E’, not a ‘€’) - seems now might appear unthinkably cynical. ‘Happiness’ did not seem to equate to this summer’s images of bloody violence as protestors clashed with police in Syntagma Square, in scenes becoming so familiar that some European commentators dubbed such stand-offs ‘the new Greek ritual.’ Yet the Citibank campaign was based, apparently, on “new research” that is routinely used to underpin arguments that the ‘relentless pursuit’ of economic growth and productivity not only fails to make us happy but is ‘socially divisive’ and ‘environmentally destructive’ to boot.

Outside Greece, indeed, happiness has increasingly become a serious focus of policy for Western governments, seemingly heightened since the financial crisis took hold. In the UK, economist Richard Layard has advocated a new ‘science of happiness’ which seeks to revolve the apparent paradox of individuals seemingly becoming unhappier even as society grows wealthier and materially more developed: ideas which have been notably taken up by governments from Tony Blair’s New Labour to David Cameron’s Conservatives. International organisations like the World Bank have increasingly sought to decouple wealth from wellbeing, taking instead a ‘basic needs’ approach to development. The OECD has recently announced a ‘Your Better Life Index’ which would ‘go beyond GDP’ to ‘deliver better policies for better lives.’ France launched a similar initiative in 2009 and even Brazilian officials considered a bill in February that would add happiness to the constitution.

With some happiness experts heralding ancient Athens as the spiritual and intellectual home of debates over ‘the good life’, there are growing calls for Greece to take up these concerns in the modern age. Is the ‘the happiness movement’ simply an attempt to re-establish moral and ethical concerns in a secular, consumerist age or should it be treated sceptically as an attempt to excuse and pacify anger over economic and political failures? Is the rise of interest in well-being and psychological skills a sincere attempt to make sense of developments in psychology and neuroscience or a poor substitute for more old-fashioned debates over morality, character and meaning? Should we even be discussing ‘the good life’ when there are more pressing issues at stake?

This event will be attended by Alan Miller, as a guest representative of the Battle of Ideas Organising Committee

Daniel Ben-Ami
journalist and author, Ferraris for All: in defence of economic progress and Cowardly Capitalism

Dr Ashley Frawley
Senior lecturer in sociology and social policy, Swansea University; author, The Semiotics of Happiness: rhetorical beginnings of a public problem

Onic V Palandjian
investment director, Capital Connect Ventures; TEDx speaker, “My passport to happiness”

Stelios Virvidakis
professor of philosophy, University of Athens

Dr Nikos Sotirakopoulos
lecturer in sociology, University of Loughborough; author, The Rise of Lifestyle Activism: From New Left to Occupy

Produced by
Angus Kennedy convenor, The Academy; author, Being Cultured: in defence of discrimination
Ira Papadopoulou director of cultural affairs, Hellenic American Union
Dr Nikos Sotirakopoulos lecturer in sociology, University of Loughborough; author, The Rise of Lifestyle Activism: From New Left to Occupy
Recommended readings
Ferraris for All: In Defence of Economic Progress

The growth of the economy and the spread of prosperity are increasingly seen as problematic rather than positive - a trend Daniel Ben-Ami has termed 'growth scepticism'. Prosperity is accused of encouraging greed, damaging the environment, causing unhappiness and widening social inequalities. Ferraris for all is a rejoinder to the growth sceptics.

Daniel Ben-Ami, Policy Press, 14 March 2012

Should we learn to be happy with the crumbs that fall to us?

It is amazing that today we can imagine Karl Marx warning us not to envy the social position of the ruling class. In fact, he was cautioning that we should never be content with the crumbs that fall to us.

Ashley Frawley, Independent, 21 October 2011

Why Greeks should be unhappy about the government’s ‘happiness’ agenda

One day you might find yourself on the government sanctioned path to happiness, whether you like it or not.

Nikos Sotirakopoulos, Independent, 16 October 2011

My passport to εὐδαιμονία (happiness +)

Onic V Palandjian, TEDx, 13 May 2011

What does happiness mean today?

From the speeches of politicians to my well-meaning university’s organisation of a staff ‘Well-being Day’, the fact that ‘concern with well-being has been increasing globally’ has become impossible to ignore.

Ashley Frawley, Battles in Print, 12 October 2010

The secret of happiness: Family, friends and your environment

How do you find contentment in an acquisitive society? By changing the things you spend your money on, says a US academic

Rachel Shields, Indpendent, 16 August 2010

Happiness and its discontents

The BBC's The Happiness Formula fails to interrogate whether happiness is an appropriate social goal.

Daniel Ben-Ami, spiked, 4 May 2006

Session partners