John Helliwell - Community and the Economics of Happiness

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Paul Born talks to UBC Professor and renowned economist John Helliwell, who has gained an international reputation for his pioneering work in incorporating social concepts into economic theories of development and growth. Learn what Canadians have to say about what makes them happy at home, in their communities and at work, and how government and business can use the information to create happier and more productive communities.

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In this seminar, Paul Born speaks with John Helliwell, a renowned economist who has gained an international reputation for his pioneering work in incorporating social concepts into economic theories of development and growth...

In this seminar, Paul Born speaks with John Helliwell, a renowned economist who has gained an international reputation for his pioneering work in incorporating social concepts into economic theories of development and growth...

Circle of friendsIn this seminar, Paul Born speaks with John Helliwell, a renowned economist who has gained an international reputation for his pioneering work in incorporating social concepts into economic theories of development and growth.

Learn about the importance of creating environments where people can be given opportunities to do things together for others. Whether we are part of an elder care facility, a school community, or a nation, we all feel a greater sense of well-being and happiness when we are surrounded by people we trust and are able to engage together in activities that bring benefit to others.

Learning Objectives:

  • To continue our exploration of the importance of community
  • To understand the role of altruism in happiness
  • To explore the science of economics and well-being
  • To appreciate the efficacy of measuring the positive
  • To think about implications at the level of policy

On this page you'll find:

Meet the Thought LeadersJohn Helliwell

John Helliwell is Arthur J.E. Child Foundation Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and co-director of CIFAR's program on "Social Interactions, Identity and Well-being,” an interdisciplinary international team of researchers doing pioneering work in incorporating social concepts into economic theories of development and growth.  Read more about John Helliwell and his work at his website here.

Paul Born

Paul Born is the President and Co-founder of Tamarack and has worked with many organizations and communities to develop innovative and sustainable ideas that motivate people to collaborative action and change. Paul also founded and was the Executive Director of the Community Opportunities Development Association (CODA) – now called Lutherwood – one of Canada’s most successful community economic-development organizations. As a master storyteller, Paul infuses his work, relationships, community, and life with the magic of conversation. He shares his passion for conversation in his book Community Conversations: Mobilizing the Ideas, Skills, and Passion of Community Organizations, Governments, Businesses, and People. Learn more about Paul on his profile page here.

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 John's Thoughts on Community

When asked what community meant to him, John had a simple one-word answer: connections. He went on to say that community can exist anywhere, from a unit as small as a family to one as large as the world.

Listen here as he talks about “survival of the fittest” and cooperation and how these two seemingly different lines of thought come together:

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Inspiring Stories of Altruism

John mentioned a new book, Well-being for Public Policy in which he is a “junior author” with Ed Diener, Richard Lucas and Uli Schimmack. This book summarizes three decades of research on the sources and social consequences of well-being.

A good part of this, he says, brings forth the evidence on social connection and the broad support of evidence for social based research. He feels it is now incumbent on governments big and small, and communities big and small, to do a better job of collecting the data on the quality of people’s lives so as to get a better handle on what works and what doesn’t.

Listen as John talks about creating healthy communities:

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The Science of Economics and Well-being

The terms happiness and well-being are often used interchangeably; however, in the world of Science there are careful distinctions made. Happiness is one way of measuring well-being. It’s a kind of emotional response. However, well-being is the agreed-upon generic term used across many disciplines.

It turns out “happiness” also sells books, so many authors manage to work the word into their titles. “The science of well-being” doesn’t sound quite so appealing. Since there are secrets to happiness, some books rightfully end up as part of the self-help genre.

John teases out the differences:

 

 

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Measuring the Positive

Is eliminating the negative as effective as building the positive? John shares his perspective on why we should stop focusing on what’s pathological or in need of fixing and start focusing on positive states of mind and what works.

He also relates an interesting experiment that suggests that “even if you just want healthy populations, you’ll be interested in measuring positive states of mind."

 

 

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Implications at the Level of Policy

Paul wonders how John came to the notion of community and its importance in his research and John talks a little about how he got into the field back in the l990’s when he was working with Robert Putnam.

John wasn’t surprised to find that the nature of social connections was important in people’s well-being. But he points out that the students of well-being have ignored social capital – and people in social capital have not studied community. There is a need to bridge well-being and social capital and see how they have influenced research, which can then feed back into discussions like the one he and Paul were having.

Listen as he goes on to discuss well-being, social capital, research, and creating healthy communities:

 

 

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Questions for Reflection

  • What are the opportunities in your community for practicing altruism?
  • Would you say you are happy? What is your over-all level of well-being?
  • Take a familiar “problem” and examine what goodness there is that you could build on.
  • Is there a community you’d like to emulate? What might be the first step?

If you’re a regular listener, how are your own thoughts about community evolving?

 

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Related Resources

John HelliwellJohn’s website lists many working papers, presentations and publications of interest to anyone who wants to explore the world of social capital. Visit John's website here.

The Social Context of Well-BeingCo-authored by John and Robert D. Putnam, this paper finds social capital, as measured by strength of family, neighbourhood, religious and community ties, is found to support both physical health and subjective well-being. Download the paper here.

Well-Being for Public Policy – This publication suggests that societies need not just objective, but also subjective indicators of well-being to aid policy makers and ordinary citizens in decision making. Read how well-being is measured, how it adds information, and how it gets reflected in policy. Visit Amazon to learn more and order the book online here.

How’s the Job? - The climate of trust in the workplace is strongly related to subjective well-being, even after allowing for individual personality differences. Learn about the determinants of workplace trust in this article by Helliwell and colleagues Haifang Huang and Robert D. Putnam. Download the paper here.

Improving the Health of Canadians: Exploring Positive Mental Health - This report draws on the research of Helliwell, positive psychology and others in determining the role of community belonging and different measures of social support in positive mental health. Access the report here.

Exploring the Social Determinants of HealthThis seven-part documentary series looks at racial and socioeconomic inequalities in health and suggests that for many, family and community provides a very powerful “protective bubble." Learn more about the series on their website here.

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