Happiness Book Summary By Richard Layard

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Happiness is a book by Richard Layard that dives deep into what makes us truly happy and the ways in which we can maintain that happiness.

Drawing upon knowledge across the fields of psychology, philosophy and neuroscience, Layard presents an extensive investigation on the path to a greater state of joy.

With thought-provoking arguments and ideas for changing our daily behavior, this book provides readers with insightful food for thought about how we should choose to live.

Happiness Book

Book Name: Happiness (Lessons from a New Science)

Author(s): Richard Layard

Rating: 4/5

Reading Time: 23 Minutes

Categories: Mindfulness & Happiness

Author Bio

Richard Layard is an esteemed British economist with a wealth of knowledge and experience.

He currently directs the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics.

His studies on unemployment were instrumental in reforming the job market in Britain back in 1998 which, in turn, successfully lowered the level of unemployment.

He has recently released a book about achieving happiness, backed by his theoretical interpretations and empirical research.

To this end, he brings to light new ideas on how to lead a life that is ultimately fulfilling and more enjoyable.

Exploring The Foundations Of Happiness: Richard Layard’S Contributions To Neuroscience And Economics


It may seem like more money would make us happy, but the truth is that it won’t – Richard Layard’s Happiness book provides evidence of this.

Research into human behaviour and wellbeing has revealed that while material wealth can provide happiness in poorer countries, it doesn’t have much influence over Westerners.

The reason is simply because most of us already live a good life with abundance.

But neuroscience shows that searching for happiness is natural and even infants respond to certain stimuli due to innate hardwiring.

The findings don’t just stop there; happier people are less likely to suffer from disease and better able to cope with ailments like heart attack, bone weaknesses or skin maladies.

On top of all that, everything we do is driven by the pursuit of happiness, proving that there are many factors we can focus on to find what will make us truly content.

Things like higher taxes returned as improved public services or benefits also play a big part in increasing overall public satisfaction levels.

So if you’re looking for lasting happiness, money won’t make you rich – understanding what matters most through careful study and research will provide the maximum benefit!

Measuring Happiness Through Neuroscience: Uncovering The Brain’S Role In Feeling Joy

Contrary to popular belief, happiness can be measured.

This is something that studies have been able to confirm by looking at how people rate their own levels of happiness and satisfaction with life.

Take the General Social Survey conducted in the United States, where participants are asked to assess how happy they are with their life situation.

The results of this survey show that US citizens’ self-reported feelings of happiness have not increased significantly since 1945, suggesting that happiness is a steady state rather than a fleeting emotion.

Neuroscientists have also begun experimenting with objective methods for measuring happiness.

EEGs (electroencephalographs) allow researchers to measure brain activity when people encounter things associated with increased happiness – like receiving a gift or seeing images of people they like – and observe which areas of the brain become more active during these moments.

This type of research has revealed that positive emotions usually correspond to greater activity in the left frontal area of the brain, while negative ones are linked with greater activity in the right frontal area.

Even infants can be studied using an EEG approach: when presented with sweet foods, their brains showed increased activity in their left frontal area; sour tastes triggered activity in the right frontal area instead.

Scientists have even managed to directly induce emotions by stimulating certain parts of the brain using powerful magnets – so it’s clear that there is scientific evidence supporting the idea that measurable levels of happiness do exist and can be measured or influenced.

The Benefits Of Being Happy Go Beyond Just Bringing A Smile To Your Face: It Also Improves Your Physical Health

It’s true that happiness is good for your health.

Numerous studies have revealed that when people experience positive emotions, the brain releases powerful “happiness hormones” which have a positive effect on many of our bodily functions.

Plus, being happy also leads to lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

Cortisol weakens our bones, thins our skin and has a negative impact on our immune system, so it makes sense that decreasing it would be beneficial to our health.

By increasing one’s happiness, they can also benefit from greater levels of these hormones as well as better overall physical health.

Happy people tend to have stronger immune systems and are less likely than unhappy people to suffer from both common illnesses and worse conditions like heart attacks.

What’s more, if they do become ill they usually recover faster too!

Finally, research shows even something as simple as winning an Oscar can lead to living longer – proving just how beneficial happiness can be to one’s overall wellbeing.

We Intuitively Pursue Things That Increase Our Happiness And Avoid Those That Lead To Unhappiness


The pursuit of happiness is deeply ingrained in our behavior as humans, and it has been for thousands and thousands of years.

Our ancestors relied on the emotion of happiness to inform them when something was good for their survival or bad for it.

If a food item was rich in calories and satisfying, it made them feel happy – just like mating did.

And this is why today many of the things we do to make us happy – such as eating well, forming relationships, and having fulfilling hobbies – are actually rooted in our evolutionary history.

Likewise, when something caused them unhappiness – such as hunger, thirst, pain or loneliness – they instinctively knew that these things were not conducive to their survival so they had an innate desire to avoid them.

Fear also served a crucial role: it helped them avoid dangerous situations where they could potentially be hurt or killed.

So yes, the pursuit of happiness is part of our evolutionarily-programmed nature; it’s one of the main drivers behind our behavior.

We continue to seek out activities that make us happy because that’s what will best help us reach our goals and survive another day.

Despite Ample Economic Progress, Happiness Remains Elusive In The Western World

We live in a world where with every passing year, our standard of living continues to rise–but that doesn’t necessarily mean our happiness is also increasing.

In fact, surveys have found that not more people are describing themselves as “happy”, even though the average income has doubled since the 1950s!

This same pattern can be seen in most European countries as well; despite improved economic circumstances, many report being more unhappy.

Similarly, issues such as depression and alcoholism have become increasingly more common–in the U.S., for example, major depressions peaked during their decade of greatest economic growth.

It stands to reason that, if people aren’t becoming happier despite rising incomes and falling unemployment rates, prosperity alone cannot solely provide for one’s satisfaction and wellbeing.

Statistics tell us that crime has greatly increased in recent times–by 300 percent since 1950!–which could be a big factor in why people are reportedly feeling less content and trusting others less than they used to.

The disintegration of families is another sign of this decrease in overall happiness; it’s clear that money alone isn’t enough to make everyone happy.

For decades now we’ve been getting wealthier but not necessarily any happier—we need to look beyond material wealth if we want to address the real issues plaguing us today.

Humans Are Competitive Creatures Who Appreciate Relative Wealth More Than Absolute Wealth

Money doesn’t necessarily bring lasting happiness, and that’s especially true if you’re making less money than your neighbor.

That’s because humans are naturally competitive and therefore naturally prone to comparing themselves to others – not only in terms of money but also in terms of status.

So while absolute wealth may not have any effect on your happiness, it can make a difference when it comes to relative wealth.

Those who earn more than their peers usually feel valued and respected; whereas those who earn less than their peers often feel worthless and unhappy.

This is the reason why many countries encourage or coerce fierce competition among individuals – so much so that some people feel like they’re stuck in an endless rat race, which doesn’t leave anyone feeling truly satisfied at the end of it all.

This sentiment was best exemplified after the reunification of Germany, with citizens from the former east feeling poorer as soon as they began comparing themselves to wealthy western Germans rather than members of poorer socialist states.

Ultimately, money doesn’t always equate to happiness – especially if you earn less than your neighbors.

The Red Queen’s Race: How We Try In Vain To Achieve Happiness Through Gains That We Quickly Become Accustomed To


At some point, we’ve all wished for material possessions that we thought would make us happier; a bigger house, a higher income etc.

What we don’t realize is that once we get those things, our happiness soon wears off as our brains become accustomed to the change in circumstances.

In other words, even if you experience success – such as winning the lottery, getting a big bonus or stepping up to a better job – this will only bring a temporary difference in your happiness.

And eventually, you’ll end up feeling just as happy (or unhappy) as before.

So, this means that it’s impossible to find permanent happiness through material gain.

We tend to think that having more will bring us joy but because we become so used to it, these gains are short-lived and cannot lead to long-term contentment.

It’s like running in a hamster wheel; while it may feel satisfying in the short term, it won’t take long before you realize that no matter how fast you run or how much more money you earn, you can’t seem to move forward and achieve true happiness.

The Key To Happiness Is Not Money – It Is Freedom From Fear Of Lack Of Basic Needs

It’s true – money can buy happiness, but only to a certain extent.

Studies have shown that when it comes to achieving long-term happiness in the western world, money just isn’t the answer.

After reaching an annual salary of around $20,000, people don’t get any happier with additional wealth.

That doesn’t mean that money isn’t important at all though.

In fact, having too little money can cause a great amount of unhappiness in your life.

This is especially true for poorer nations, where having less wealth than the rest of your country or community could be seen as a source of shame and embarrassment.

Not to mention in these poorer countries, lack of money can mean not being able to meet basic needs such as food or shelter for your family.

In short, while more money won’t make you happier – too little of it can certainly make you unhappy.

The Five Most Influential Factors Of Happiness: Family, Financial Situation, Work And Community, Health, And Personal Freedom And Values

When it comes to our overall well-being, studies have shown that the things you can’t buy are the most influential factors.

According to the World Values Survey, family relationships and our close private life, work as something which gives our life purpose, community and friends as a source of trust and belonging, and our health take precedence over our financial situation.

It is commonly found that the loss of a family member or going through a divorce can have double the impact on one’s level of happiness than even losing 30 percent of their income.

Furthermore, having strong work and social relationships has been proven to be vital for our wellbeing – being unemployed is often extremely detrimental to one’s self-confidence and feelings of worth.

To further emphasise this point, things such as personal freedom and personal values are also deemed as highly important contributors to lasting happiness.

Those living in stable environments with their basic needs met tend to be far more content than those living in areas guided by rules or laws which impede independence – this makes sense considering we all need some kind of autonomy in order for our lives to have meaning.

Being able to appreciate what we have aligns perfectly with this too; holding positive beliefs which value your own life will undoubtedly help cultivate peace and joyfulness.

For each person, different things may bring lasting happiness – however largely speaking it’s true that there are many avenues towards cheer which don’t involve shopping sprees or expensive holidays!

Mostly, it’s down to experiences like spending time with loved ones we care about, doing meaningful work (or hobbies) we enjoy among people who understand us: these few basics are often all it takes build a life full of contentment!

The Author Suggests Happiness Is Achieved When Governments Pursue Goals That Aim To Increase Social Well-Being, Rather Than Pursuing Economic Growth As The Primary Goal

Economic Growth

The author of Happiness Book makes a bold statement about the goal for all countries; it should not be economic growth, but rather the greatest happiness for the greatest number.

This is quite different from what other Western countries have traditionally aimed for when it comes to their focus on economic growth.

We know that material wealth has steadily risen over the past 50 years, yet people still seem to struggle with actual happiness.

In large part, this could be due to our governments putting too much emphasis on economic growth and ignoring other factors of life that are crucial for well-being such as family, friends and health.

It’s time to take a new approach and start focusing on what people actually need in order to lead a happy life instead of trying to satisfy society‘s needs of those generations long since passed.

A great example is Bhutan, which since the 70s has used Gross National Happiness as its main measure of success rather than a nation’s GDP.

Here wealth is redistributed in order to reduce poverty and combat status competition among citizens – leading to far higher levels of happiness than in many other areas around the world.

We know there is more than just financial or material wealth when it comes to living a meaningful, satisfying life – so let’s make “greatest happiness for greatest number” our aim as we move into the future.

Higher Taxes Can Lead To Greater Happiness By Reducing Our Competitive Drive And Encouraging People To Work Less And Spend More Time On Sources Of True Fulfillment

Increasing taxation is an effective way to achieve greater happiness in any society.

When taxes are high, people are discouraged from seeking out sources of happiness that aren’t beneficial for them – such as money or status.

Instead, they have to focus on activities and relationships that have been proven to bring joy.

A progressive income tax would lead people towards working less and devoting more of their time to family, friends and other pursuits that truly matter.

It also reduces their competitive urge and diminishes the tendency to compare themselves to others.

This helps balance their work-life equilibrium which leads to greater levels of contentment.

Additionally, higher taxation takes away the need for people always chasing after small ‘highs’, helping them avoid the unhappiness associated with relying on fleeting pleasures.

Lastly, when vying for income becomes difficult due to taxes being too high, it eliminates the possibility of a rat race – meaning a feeling of satisfaction can be achieved by all alike.

How Governments Can Help Us Achieve Family Happiness

Family Happiness

Politicians should focus on what really makes us happy, not just what makes their political agenda look good.

While it is important for governments to prioritize economic growth and development, they need to also recognize that family and meaningful relationships are the primary source of long-lasting happiness.

This means providing incentives for people to stay close to their families by reducing commute times, encouraging flexible working hours and parental leave, establishing mandatory child care in offices and providing jobs for the unemployed.

Mental health should also be a priority in terms of government funding.

Mental illnesses can be devastating both for individuals and societies and unfortunately, too often these disorders go unnoticed or ignored.

Governments should aim to allocate more resources towards mental health care interventions.

Finally, investments in children’s education are key when it comes to fostering happiness as well.

School curriculums should not only involve academic tasks but also teach moral values, emotional intelligence, etc., Additionally, project-based learning—which helps students develop skills in areas such as communication, problem-solving etc.—should be given precedence as this will help nurture our future generations into happier citizens.

Wrap Up

In the Happiness Book, the author argues that although wealth has steadily increased for decades in Western countries, people’s overall happiness hasn’t.

For this reason, we should focus less on acquiring wealth and more on fostering relationships with friends and family, pursuing meaningful work, and taking care of our health – because these are going to bring us true and lasting happiness.

To put this advice into action, the book suggests that we take stock of what we already have instead of constantly chasing after new “hits” which can only bring us temporary pleasure.

It also encourages us to use exercise as a way to deepen our feeling of contentment and boost our overall health; exercise leads to the release of endorphins in the brain, creating greater levels of happiness which can improve one’s well-being on multiple levels.

In summation, this book encourages readers to pursue genuine growth by investing in aspects of their lives that create authentic joy – rather than expecting financial gain or material comfort to lead lasting fulfillment – in order to maximize their wellbeing over time.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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