Smile, it's an election. Photo: Flickr/~Pawsitive~Candie_N
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Which party should you vote for to make you happiest?

You’ve heard the economic arguments and seen the policy wrangling, but which party would actually increase your happiness?

Each party justifies its policies by appealing to principles like fairness, equality or security. These are hard to object to and harder to choose between. What if, instead, I just wanted to know which party would make me, as the average Briton, happier? Which policies will make people experience more pleasurable, fulfilling, satisfising lives?

In principle, this is a question there could be an objective, factual answer to. Social scientists have been collecting data for 60 years on what makes people happy. Simply, people are asked how they think and feel about their lives. While people do differ in what makes us happy, we differ less than we’d think. Just as no one wants to be in pain, nearly everyone enjoy spending time with their friends and doing fulfilling work. Using the data on happiness, can we establish which polices should make people happier on average. In theory, we could audit the manifestos’ impact on happiness just like the Office of Budget Responsibility does their spending promises.

In practice, it’s not so simple. Doing a precise calculation is immensely complicated. What we can do, and I’ve done here, is a quick and dirty analysis. On the basis of the happiness evidence, we can divide policies into three groups.

The first is those policies that don’t clearly matter to happiness. The top examples are policies to bring economic growth and anything to do with the deficit. Perhaps the most famous result in the happiness data – known as the Easterlin Paradox, named after the economist who noticed it – is that people in developed countries have been getting wealthier, but not any more satisfied with their lives, since World War Two.

While this may seem mysterious, it’s got a fairly obvious explanation. Our happiness is determined by how we feel about what we pay attention to. We adapt to unchanging circumstances and stop paying attention to them. On a daily basis, ordinary people might worry about their work, their family, their health and their commute. What they don’t do is wake up every day a feel grateful they aren’t in a North Korean labour camp. In the same way, rich people don’t focus on how rich they are. That’s why increasing average wealth won’t make the country happier. We can’t neglect economics altogether (as the Greeks or the Zimbabweans could tell us) but wealth doesn’t matter nearly as much we think it does.

Also in this category are foreign affairs, immigration and education. Today, how long did you think about Isis or foreign immigrants for? Was it longer or shorter than you spent thinking about what you should have for lunch? Exactly. Equally, while different education policies may make people smarter, it’s less clear how they’ll increase national happiness. The rule of thumb is that if a policy wouldn’t change something that you’ve done or thought about today, it doesn’t matter.

The second group is policies that do affect happiness, but spending money on them won’t increase it overall because that means you’re taking money from something else. Examples of this include things like spending more on physical health, transport or law and order. If the Tories create 5,000 more doctors, but won’t spend any more overall, and that money comes out the police force or rail infrastructure, the changes cancel each other out.

The third are policies that are really important happiness because they change how people experience their lives. Policies that increase support for mental health and social care, reduce unemployment and lift people out of poverty are those that matter most. To realise why, think of it this way: while breaking a leg might be painful initially, in the modern day it’s really just an inconvenience. However, being depressed, being unemployed or being in poverty are not things you adapt to and stop thinking about.

So, who should you vote for? It depends on your economic views. If you think money grows on trees, vote Green: their support for a guaranteed income, amongst other things, will increase happiness in the short term. If you don’t think money does, vote Lib Dem: their £3.5bn commitment to mental health is the policy with the biggest positive happiness impact. Just behind them are Labour, with the Tories and Ukip’s more right-wing welfare policies putting them in fourth and fifth.

Michael Plant is a philosopher, happiness consultant and co-founder of Hippo.Rocks.

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It’s obvious why Thais can’t resist our English footballers. But they want our schools, too

The only explanation is . . . our footer must be great and exciting to watch.

At Bangkok airport, sitting in the Club lounge, as I am a toff, I spotted a copy of Thailand Tatler, a publication I did not know existed. Flicking through, I came across a whole page advert announcing that RUGBY SCHOOL IS COMING TO THAILAND.

In September, Rugby will open a prep and pre-prep department, and then, in 2018, full boarding for ages up to 17. How exciting – yet another English public school sets up a satellite in Thailand.

But I was confused. Just as I was confused all week by the Thai passion for our football.

How has it happened that English public schools and English football have become so popular in Thailand? There is no colonial or historical connection between the UK and Thailand. English is not the Thais’ first language, unlike in other parts of the world such as India and Hong Kong. Usually that explains the continuation of British traditions, culture and games long after independence.

When I go to foreign parts, I always take a large wodge of Beatles and football postcards. I find deprived persons all over the world are jolly grateful for these modern versions of shiny beads – and it saves tipping the hotel staff. No young Thai locals were interested in my Beatles bits, but boy, my footer rubbish had them frothing.

I took a stash of seven-year-old postcards of Andy Carroll in his Newcastle strip, part of a set given away free in Barclays banks when they sponsored the Premier League. I assumed no one in Thailand would know who the hell Andy Carroll was, but blow me, every hotel waiter and taxi driver recognised him, knew about his various clubs and endless injuries. And they all seemed to watch every Premiership game live.

I have long been cynical about the boasts that our Prem League is the most watched, the most popular in the world, with 200 countries taking our TV coverage every week. I was once in Turkey and went into the hotel lounge to watch the live footer. It was chocka with Turks watching a local game, shouting and screaming. When it finished, the lounge emptied: yet the next game was our FA Cup live. So I watched it on my own. Ever since, I’ve suspected that while Sky might sell rights everywhere, it doesn’t mean many other folk are watching.

But in Thailand I could see their passion, though most of them have no experience of England. So the only explanation is . . . our footer must be great and exciting to watch. Hurrah for us.

Explaining the passion for English public schools is a bit harder. At present in Thailand, there are about 14 boarding schools based on the English public-school system.

Rugby is only the latest arrival. Harrow has had a sister school there since 1998. So do Shrewsbury, Bromsgrove and Dulwich College (recently renamed British International School, Phuket).

But then I met Anthony Lark, the general manager of the beautiful resort where I was staying in the north of the island. He’s Australian, been out there for thirty years, married to a Thai. All three of his sons went to the Phuket school when it was still Dulwich International College.

His explanations for the popularity of all these British-style schools included the fact that Thailand is the gateway to Asia, easy to get to from India and China; that it’s relatively safe; economically prosperous, with lots of rich people; and, of course, it’s stunningly beautiful, with lovely weather.

There are 200,000 British expats in Thailand but they are in the minority in most of these British-style public schools – only about 20 per cent of the intake. Most pupils are the children of Thais, or from the surrounding nations.

Many of the teachers, though, are from English-speaking nations. Anthony estimated there must be about five thousand of them, so the schools must provide a lot of work. And presumably a lot of income. And, of course, pride.

Well, I found my little chest swelling at the thought that two of our oldest national institutions should be so awfully popular, so awfully far away from home . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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