Mark Vernon, the author of Wellbeing (Acumen), reviewing “Happiness at Work” (Rao) and “The Happiness Equation” (Powdthavee)

Happiness at Work: Be resilient, motivated, and successful – no matter what
Srikumar S Rao
McGraw-Hill £16.99

Happiness at Work offers 35 brisk reflections on what matters in life. It covers themes from coping with fear to cultivating friends and repeatedly returns to a central piece of advice: notice what’s happening to you and, by noticing, become less attached.

It’s a broadly Buddhist agenda, part of the phenomenon in which eastern religious ideas are incorporated into western secular contexts such as the workplace, with the aim of raising spiritual questions amid the humdrum concerns of our otherwise consumer-shaped lives. It’s spiritual release without religious dogma.

The Happiness Equation: The surprising economics of our most valuable asset
Nick Powdthavee
Icon Books £14.99

The Happiness Equation is more serious and draws on the so-called ‘science of happiness’, which has reported a growing number of insights to do with human felicity: saying thank-you increases wellbeing; earning more money does not necessarily make you more happy; relationships are worth a small fortune (a good marriage, roughly ú200,000 a year, according to Powdthavee).

I can’t help but feel that the new science is of most value to economists, and books like this one are really documents in which economists convince themselves that human beings are not wholly rational creatures after all.

In fact, happiness researchers might save themselves time by turning to the philosophical tradition on the subject. Powdthavee does this in part, citing Jeremy Bentham, the British philosopher who championed utilitarianism. Bentham went so far as to develop a ‘felicific calculus’. It has been heavily criticised: how can you compare the pleasure of eating an apple to that of eating a pear, let alone the pleasure of good friendship to that of eating a bar of good chocolate? And Powdthavee is aware of the problems, though he believes modern psychology overcomes them.

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