This was a great conference for three reasons.
First, it brought together some leading thinkers on happiness. Second, it was eclectic and inclusive and had a light touch - happy in spirit as well as subject matter. Thirdly, it was inspiring - I went away thinking and feeling that this was a vibrant area, and that this was only the first step.
Make no mistake, there were some serious thinkers on show here, including authors of three recent books on happiness.
- Lord Richard Layard - the "Happiness Tsar" - a leading economist and author of Happiness - lessons from a New Science.
- Daniel Nettle of the University of Newcastle and author of one of the best short books on happiness (Happiness - The Science behind your Smile) and
- Professor Richard Schoch of the University of London and author of a book with a more philosophical slant (The Secrets of Happiness : Three Thousand Years of Searching for the good life).
But this conference was a meeting of East and west, for we also had several Buddhist monks and nuns, which was very fitting since science is beginning to show a link between meditation and both happiness and improved health. As positive psychology expert Felicia Huppert wrote in her paper in the conference proceedings (Learning about Happiness)
By bringing together the Eastern spiritual enlightenment and the Western intellectual enlightenment I believe we can do much to increase our individual and collective happiness
It brought together science and religion, academics and monks, as well as those involved in developing happiness programmes in organisations in one large, well-organised two-day conference in London.
I won't attempt to give a full report here - just some personal highlights and some thoughts about the next steps that might follow from such an inspirational event.
- Walking in to see actress Goldie Hawn eulogising about how a few minutes mindfulness each day lights up childrens brains in the programme she has founded
- Hearing the different perspectives of psychologist Daniel Nettle and philosopher Richard Schoch on happiness
- Hearing the Venerable Sangye Khadro , author of How to Meditate (as Kathleen McDonald) talk about Buddhism
- Hearing the group from Wellington school talk about their well-being classes
- Some contributions from the floor, including an impassioned rendering of Amazing Grace
I'm not sure what impression the above list gives - probably sounds like a cross between an academic conference and Woodstock. Which is probably not so far off the mark. Except the drug being consumed was happiness and the variety particularly Buddhism.
The conference felt like it was the start of something more - perhaps even a new movement, bigger than positive psychology, different from Buddhism, aimed at the development of happiness and well-being -a multi-disciplinary movement with real impact. I hope it is.
(Happiness and its Causes took place on 13-14 October, 2007, at Savoy Place, London, UK).