New Breed of Economists Highlight Importance of Behavioral Health
> 1/10/2007 11:47:22 AM

Happiness is all the rage these days. Some in academia call it "positive psychology," and articles have cropped up across a number of publications including recent ones in the New York Times and New York magazine. As of a couple of weeks ago, we can add another, maybe more unexpected publication to that list, The Economist. In an article entitled "Economics discovers its feelings," the magazine explores the link between happiness and the study of what Victorian Era writer Thomas Carlyle called, "the dismal science."

The Economists piece is an expansive and in depth look at how shifts in the way that economists assign value to utility--once thought of as pleasure minus pain--has not only illuminated new ideas for researchers toiling in ivory towers, but for flesh and blood individuals on the ground. Fittingly, it wasn't an economist that first described this shift in thinking, but instead a psychologist. In 2002 Dr. Daniel Kahneman, who currently works at Princeton University, was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics for his work with Dr. Amos Tversky on prospect theory.

Economists have operated for years under the assumption that a consumer's choice is constant and to be respected. Kahneman and his associates were the first to demonstrate that our choices, the utility we derive from them and our recollections and predictions of past and future utility are mutable and highly indefinite. A corollary of this has been the increasingly held belief that utility as expressed through subjective measures of happiness are relatively stable even over periods of large increases in one's standard of living.

London School of Economics professor Richard Layard has picked up this line of thinking and established himself at the forefront of a movement to improve happiness among all of Britain's citizens. In the Economist article, the magazine describes how Layard has come to be an active proponent of increased availability of behavioral health care.

Lord Layard argues, unemployment is no longer Britain's biggest social problem. The number of jobless Britons claiming the dole is now about 960,000. But there are over 1m people receiving incapacity benefits because depression and stress have left them unfit to work.

In Great Britain anyway, sheer numbers dictate that there are more people sick enough to receive incapacity benefits because of depression, perhaps the very antithesis of happiness, then there are people unable to find work total. Because of this, Layard, as his LSE profile indicates, has made happiness research and writing his focus. He now promotes greater government support for mental healthcare, and has become a champion for creating more availability of behavioral health centers. He argues, with much support, that the benefits to society as a whole of treating the thousands, if not millions, suffering in silence from depression, would far out weigh the costs.

As the Economist notes however, Layard is not alone. In the US, Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi of Claremont Graduate University, who coined the term "flow" to describe the positive feelings associated with losing one's self in work or other tasks, has also thrown himself into happiness research. Csikszentmihalyi has helped create the "Good Work Project," which takes as its goal the idea of identifying people and organizations that exhibit this flow and helping to spread it throughout society. The thought being that if a greater level of society can experience this feeling, we will ultimately be more prosperous and, yes, happy.

The Economist's article, summarizing much of the advancement in economic thought in regards to utility, draws the field together with psychology in a way that even twenty years ago may have seemed impossible. The work of the men and women mentioned in the piece have helped to complicate, yet improve economic thought, but their unintended effect was to show just how important behavioral healthcare is to the overall prosperity of a nation's economy. We've all known the maxim, happy workers are productive workers, was true for some time. Finally, the science has caught up to help us show why that is and just how productive we might be.

No comments yet.

Post Your Comments

Post a comment
Email Address:
Verification Code:
Input the 8 characters you see above:


Drug Abuse
Sexual Addiction
Eating Disorders
Alzheimer's Disease

About TOL | Contact Us | Defining Behavioral Fitness | For Healthcare Professionals | Links | Privacy Policy