The Happiness Agenda relates to all - not just the political right!

Don't surrender happiness to the political right! -a response to Suzanne Moore's article in the February 9th 2012 Guardian
“For Happiness we need Collective Action” were the words of the Labour leader of our local council when he first heard of the local Action for Happiness group, which I co-ordinate. I applaud the identification by Suzanne Moore (Guardian, 9th February) of the danger of the privatisation of happiness; seeing well-being in all its dimensions as being entirely a matter of individual responsibility. The politics of the individual pursuit of happiness in the politics of the U.S.A. -which leaves people without the equivalent of our NHS. The pre-cursor of the NHS, which academics (in Social Policy) see as a causal factor, was World War 2. (When a country is called to fight a mass war, the legitimacy of the war is affected by how the nation addresses it's own inequalities in health & political power).
A successful social movement has certain characteristics, and my efforts are directed at supporting “the happiness movement” to develop the necessary organisational and political awareness. The danger for “the Happiness Movement” at this time is rightly identified as our being used as pawns in David Cameron's game, or that of any other political leader.
With my background over 20 years being in “restorative justice” and related work, I recognise the importance of a cause that benefits all being forwarded in a way that is not party political. My monitoring of the progress of Restorative Justice in the UK ever since I became Head of Restorative Justice at Mediation UK (in 2001) and invited by Tony Blair to 10, Downing St to be thanked in 2004 for my work on behalf of victims of crime, is that all three main political parties, and the Greens, can take credit for their support for this communication between victims, offenders and communities that improves public safety.
In the favelas in Brazil, my friend Dominic Barter has been one of the world's top "radical innovators", as lauded by NESTA, the “National Endowment for Science, Technology & The Arts”) [] . In Brazil, the challenge has been to unite more polarised state departments (from the left-wing Ministry of Education to the militarised and right-wing Ministry of Justice) behind the “restorative circles” social policy. The left have bought into these restorative processes on the basis that they place attention on the social causes of crimes; the language being that “some people have fewer choices on the menu” when they want money, influence etc & this contributes to violent crime. The right have bought into the development of these restorative processes as alternatives to court processes on the basis that “restorative circles” emphasise personal responsibility. Thus, though “the menu” in the favelas may be experienced by one who lives in a hut sliding down a muddy-hillside as limited, the individual who choses to pick up a gun to address their sense of inequity is still responsible for the choice made, and the wider community can hold that person to account more effectively than courts usually do.
I live & work as a Community Mediator []/ Community Development Worker/ Action for Happiness Activist in the 19th most deprived town in the UK; and St Leonards is even worse-off than it's neighbour, Hastings, with whom this figure is compiled. There is a major challenge that the St Leonards Sharing Consortium has taken on in embarking on “truth, reparation and reconciliation work” in the wake of the burning of the local pier. This work is part of restorative justice work that seeks to avert riots like those experienced in more major urban areas of social exclusion. The challenge is “How to build common ground between people across the range of geographic/socio-economic and interest-based communities in a town and it's hinterland?
In constantly re-asking this question and finding many different ways to work on that agenda, I get much encouragement from Dominic Barter, in Brazil, heralding “Action for Happiness” work as a way for someone as politically reticent as some of his older relatives to actually become part of a mass social movement in these crucial transition times of failing economies. (If it's not failing economies across the globe the dominant alternative appears to be models of economic growth that short-change the chances of survival for much of human kind.)
Kindness, in all senses, matters now, more perhaps than it ever has, and we may have more power than ever before to enact it, and to challenge, as the OCCUPY movement has, the manifestation of it's opposite, Greed.
Kindness and Happiness are closely related in ways perhaps too obvious to spell out. One of the “Action for Happiness” slogans is “If you want to feel good, do good”, and my preference is for people to adopt Action 24 from the list of ways of acting for happiness ie Understand Each Others' Needs.
The OCCUPY movement is a response to a crisis that has opened up a large space for creative new thinking. The new economics required for the greatest happiness are (as evidenced by “The Spirit Level”) are economics of greater income equality, and, I would add, sharing of resources. I campaign also as “Lend-It-All Man”, with a personal strapline “Anything I own, you can borrow”. My hope is that humour and thinking creatively about the best way to use all the resources available (irrespective of who believes they own them) begins to engage people either in the light green “Collaborative Consumption”(Botsman) or the deeper green “Collaborative Conservation”, as I call it. Recycling was only stage one, followed by freecycling. Beyond this comes freelending (AKA etc) for releasing an inventory of our possessions to our neighbours and hence building social capital. (how would it be if every time you went to buy something on line, you had an option to check with one-click whether any of your friends, neighbours or others were willing to lend you that thing instead? Is it use of something we want, or ownership? And what are the costs of ownership compared to the costs of borrowing & lending? Alongside this economics of “either a borrower or a lender be” comes timebanking, which values one person's time equally to another and, with skilled brokerage & development, connects us through what we can do for each other.
Timebanking has a radical edge to it in many ways, generating “an informal an unregulated social work system” according to an academic from Bristol Social Policy unit. What I love most about time brokerage (as an alternative currency) is the power of the relationships that can be built up with commercial organisations to release some of their resources for free to the community, and the collective power of the timebank activists to re-allocate surplus value when many people trade a couple of time credits to come to a performance put on by a few, who only get time-credits for the hours they have put in. These excess time-credits can then go to developing a building that serves as a new community hub or some other collectively chosen activity. In Hastings, on the second anniversary of the pier fire, St Leonards Sharing Timebank is putting on the play “Ethical Outings in Hastings” and the the actors and playwright are being paid in time credits for each hour they put in to preparing to share this vision of “a more caring & sharing Hastings & St Leonards”.
If I now jump back 25 or more years, it was in the campaign for nuclear disarmament that I first began to learn the lesson perhaps most valuable to this age; that my well-being is dependent on my active concern for others well-being. My conscience has remained opposed to the holding over a civilian population, at risk to the survival of our species, the threat of nuclear annihilation. Sadly, in the years of my nonviolent direct action in the 1980s, CND became politically marginalised. Though I managed to recruit and retain members from sections of the population who had not previously been political activists, for all my best efforts within the Youth section of the campaign, CND allied itself to tangential left-wing causes (eg the Miners Strike) that lowered the prospects of recruitment from Tory voters.
Hopefully the local Action for Happiness group of which I'm co-ordinator will be more successful as one of many vanguards of a new local economics, sparked partly by the “localism” vs “globalism” of the film “The Economics of Happiness. I hope we succeed in developing the ethic that values peoples time equally (timebanking). I hope that we recognise the importance of of tuning into the needs of others, especially when triggered by behaviours we don't like, not least of whom are those who start the riots! And of course I hope that we act to produce a society that cares enough to maintain (& develop) the best of the Welfare State.
Can national political commentators please see that this is the scale of what is at stake when they attempt to marginalise campaigns for happiness that, if engaged with, can be broadened and deepened to benefit all through collective action. Don't surrender happiness to the political right!
We need to act if we want happiness just as, to cite writing in my local paper “We need to act if we want justice”; social justice. Social justice and happiness are not separate campaigns -they are deeply interlinked.
Paul Crosland
Co-ordinator, Hastings & St Leonards Action for Happiness,
& Co-Director, Freelending CIC
[The above article was sent as a response to Suzanne Moore's article in the February 9th 2012 Guardian

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