How to Achieve Happiness as a Grant Professional: Support Policies that Increase Social Capital

From the ancient Greeks to the present, we have debated the meaning of happiness. Today, there is a renewed interest in this subject from economists, political scientists, and psychologists.  What makes people happy, and how might grant professionals achieve a feeling of well-being inside and outside the workplace?

If social capital and not income or commodities is the most important source of happiness and life satisfaction for grant professionals, then I think we need to re-examine the way we work and live.

The research on social capital and hap­piness has profound implications for public policy. Income is not the most direct source of happiness. Instead, in the words of one scholar, “we get happiness primarily from people; it is their affection or dislike, their good or bad opinions of us, their acceptance or rejec­tion that most influence our moods.”

Con­sequently, we need to “move from an emphasis on money and economic growth toward an em­phasis on companion­ship.” As he points out, “in rich societies, for people above the pov­erty line, more money as compared with friend­ship and community esteem, a loving spouse and affectionate chil­dren, quickly loses its power to make people happy.”

This is a heretical idea because we consid­er such concepts as “happiness” and “well-be­ing” to be “externalities” in the impoverished vocabulary of most contemporary economists and politics. We need an economic and public policy that focuses more directly on building social capital and creating the conditions for happiness.

However, changing public policy will be difficult because democratic politics usually do not contribute to people’s subjec­tive well-being. Most Americans say that they dislike politics because of its competitiveness, abrasiveness, and the feeling that voting and participating in political contests do not make much of a difference.

Nevertheless, I recommend that we find ways to improve on the following in the realm of public policy:

  • Monitor levels of happiness at least as thoroughly as we do economics and income.
  • Reduce levels of poverty because poor people usually have the highest levels of unhappiness.
  • Reduce unemploy­ment because not working deprives people of their self-esteem and cuts them off from their social networks at work.
  • Keep inflation low because high rates of inflation increase the costs of daily trans­actions and induce uncertainty about the future, both of which lead to unhappi­ness.
  • Promote family-friendly policies at work and in our communities because good family relations are a major source of happiness for spouses and children.
  • Expand public spaces from sidewalks to community centers to parks because they are sites where social capital is built.
  • Support activities that increase volun­teerism, philanthropy, public service, and civic involvement because they are major sources of social capital.

Leave a Reply