The rise of 'hapitalism', and what can be done

Hapitalism (hap-i-tal-ism)
noun (portmanteau of ‘happy’ and ‘capitalism’)
An economic system based on a state measuring collective happiness in a way that encourages a level of individual competition and inequality typical of unregulated, free-market capitalism.

Yesterday, I wrote something for the Huffington Post exploring the correlation between happiness and suicide rates in US states (and nations). In it, I raise concerns over a developing ‘hapitalism’ in which average happiness levels are raised by sacrificing the happiness, and, in some cases, lives, of a minority.

A central principle behind capitalism is that free markets allow for economic growth and that this benefits all of us on condition that interventions such as taxation and public services exist. In the same way, happiness advocates argue that an increase in gross national happiness will benefit us all. The problem is that, as the happiness-suicide correlate indicates, conditionals are also needed to ensure that a rise in GNH benefits all. I’ll look more at these conditionals shortly.

The importance of conditionals in a happiness economy risks being overlooked due to happiness being seen as an intrinsic moral good. On the surface, an increase in the happiness of a group seems like a good thing, but the problem is that an increase in average happiness can be attained even if one member of the group has come to find themselves in extreme suffering. The tendency to assume that we can draw conclusions about individuals from the condition of a group is known as an ecological fallacy.

The appropriateness of equating a capitalist economy with a happiness (‘hapitalist’?) economy depends on the way in which individual ‘growth’ occurs in the two types of economy.  In my blog post, I explore the idea that the happiness of some may be directly enhanced by the suffering of others, and that those who are suffering may feel worse by comparing themselves to happy people (hence a correlation between happiness and suicide)*. If this is an accurate description, then, just as capitalist societies tend to favour the wealthy and may widen inequalities of wealth and income, a happiness economy may widen the wellbeing gap between the happy and unhappy unless interventions are in place to help encourage the reverse.

Interventions

1. Improving happiness indicators
For happiness indicators to be a measure of the wellbeing of all, they need to focus on more than just aggregating individual happiness. The economist Sagar Shah suggests that this might be done by also looking at the ‘features of a society’, or by giving higher weight to those with ‘lower well-being’. Discrediting simplistic aggregated measures of happiness may also be an important step.

2. Improving communication
Those writing, speaking and teaching about happiness ought to appreciate the degree to which suffering is unavoidable, and to be mindful of the impact of their words on those who are suffering. Proponents of positive psychology tend to use Martin Seligman’s theories of learned helplessness and learned optimism to argue that we all have influence over our wellbeing. This can be a message of hope and encouragement to some, but it may also dishearten those with poor wellbeing. Whilst our perception of suffering may influence our ability to move on from the situation, the presence of suffering is often a normal and healthy reaction to adverse stimuli. (Try being happy when you’re repeatedly being subjected to electric shocks.) If we deny this, we risk stigmatising something that we will all experience at some point in our lives.

3. Improving policymaking
All official happiness policy should factor in public health principles, and any messages or interventions designed to boost collective happiness should consider implications for mental health and suicide-prevention. Economists and policymakers should be liaising with public health professionals — and also vice versa; as the World Health Organisation reminds us, “Health is created and lived by people within the settings of their everyday life; where they learn, work, play, and love.”

 

*This may only be the case for people, communities and societies that are driven by competition and comparison. In fact, research from Japan suggests that happier people are kinder.

USA students donate $50,000 to wellbeing services

Graduating students at the University of Washington have pledged $50,000 to their university’s mental health services in recognition of the pressures affecting students. The donation is part of a tradition in the United States in which leaving students offer their university a ‘senior class gift’.

The donation is the university’s largest ever senior gift, according to The Seattle Times. The money will go to the Student Counseling Center, and be used to develop mental health awareness campaigns and educational materials to help students look after themselves.

In a USA survey of more than 28,000 university students, half reported “overwhelming anxiety” and almost a third reported having experienced depression. Earlier this year, USA Today reported that roughly 2.2 million students had accessed counselling services during 2012, and that services have become increasingly stretched.

Is It ‘Wellbeing’ Or ‘Well-being’? (And Why It Matters)

Who cares, right? Quite a few people apparently. According to Google Keywords, 450,000 people a month are unsure whether to go with well-being or wellbeing.

For those working in the area, it’s mostly just a minor niggle. The internet makes it more important, though. Get it wrong, and a particular webpage won’t show up in search results. For those looking for information about support services, it could be crucial.

Some of us – the geeky ones, perhaps – have also thought about why there are two words that seem to describe the same thing, and what it means to use one over the other.

The short answer: Should I use ‘well-being’ or ‘wellbeing’?
It’s up to you – just be consistent. Generally, well-being and wellbeing are used to refer to the same thing. While ‘wellbeing’ is becoming more popular, ‘well-being’ is probably still used more. If that’s all you wanted to check, thanks for reading.

If you want to read the analysis, and to know why I suggest using ‘wellbeing’, read on.

What do the dictionaries tell us?
Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries go with ‘well-being’.
Dictionary.com accepts them both equally.
Princeton, based in the USA, favours ‘wellbeing’, although Merriam Webster, also USA based, goes with ‘well-being’.

On balance then, ‘well-being’ seems to be the linguist’s favourite.

What about general usage?
The media, as you’ve probably gathered, uses both words. In the realm of politics, we find that the British government is not set on ‘well-being’ either. Actually the government seems a bit confused about which to use. While the Office of National Statistics uses ‘well-being’, the number 10 website and parliamentary reports went with ‘wellbeing’.

In the voluntary sector, there’s also a mix of usages. While the New Economics Foundation opts for ‘well-being’, the Young Foundation has gone with ‘wellbeing’.

So, it seems that there’s no agreement on whether to use ‘well-being’ or ‘wellbeing’. The words are used interchangeably, and it’s a matter of personal preference. But things seem to be changing.

What’s the trend?
Here’s where it gets interesting. (Well, about as interesting as a discussion about hyphens can get.) To date, Google search results indicate that ‘well-being’ is more popular than ‘wellbeing’. However, Google Trends indicates that since 2004, searches for ‘well-being’ have been on decline, while searches for wellbeing have significantly increased.

To understand why this is, it’s useful to know the role of the hyphen.

Oxford Dictionaries says that “the hyphen is used to link words and parts of words”. In our case, the words are (obviously) ‘well’ and ‘being’, which, like ‘well-known’, come together to form what is technically known as a compound adjective.

According to ‘The Grammar Curmudgeon‘, “The trend in English is for frequently used word combinations to “grow together” from two words to one, sometimes passing through a hyphenated stage.” But this “hyphenated stage” is, apparently, becoming less and less used, at least partly because of the internet. (A hyphen is often recognised by computer software as a space, which can make things confusing.)

In this way, ‘well being’ has become ‘well-being’, and is gradually becoming ‘wellbeing’. If we accept this it’s only a matter of time before all dictionaries recognise ‘wellbeing’, after which the continuing survival of the hyphenated ‘well-being’ will probably depend upon people finding some need to regress back from ‘wellbeing’ into the broader notion of ‘being well’.

So is there a difference in meaning between ‘wellbeing’ and ‘well-being’?
Yes, kind of.

Most of the time the two words are used interchangeably, but in removing the hyphen, ‘wellbeing’ implies a standalone meaning beyond merely ‘being well’. So, if we mean ‘being well’ then use of the word ‘well-being’ might be most appropriate. But if we want to express more than this, such as psychological interpretations of the term (which are increasingly common), then ‘wellbeing’ might be better.

As interest in measuring well[-]being continues to grow, independent meanings for the word will continue to develop. There will inevitably be more debate around the meaning of the word, but widespread use of the word ‘welfare’, which is also a coming together of two words (‘faring’ and ‘well’), suggests that the ambiguity of the word will not be enough to stop ‘wellbeing’ from becoming more prominent than ‘well-being’. In short, ‘wellbeing’ is here to stay.

Why might it be better to use ‘wellbeing’?
There are two reasons why I (usually*) use ‘wellbeing’ over ‘well-being’.

  1. When I use the word ‘wellbeing’ I am referring to more than just ‘being well’. Academic accounts of well[-]being (such as this one from Ryff and Keyes) consistently refer to well[-]being as a dynamic and active state of flourishing, which conflicts with the sense of mild satisfaction and inertia implied by the term ‘being well’.
  2. If my earlier analysis is correct then, despite dictionary definitions, the word ‘wellbeing’ will become more widely used than ‘well-being’. By adopting ‘wellbeing’ now, we accelerate the transition and minimise the period in which inconsistency over use of the words causes webpages to be missed by those searching for information about services and resources.

So that’s my analysis of the wellbeing / well-being issue. Dispute anything I’ve said? Got something to add? Let me know!

* The exception would of course be when referring to a specific article that uses ‘well-being’, where the use of ‘wellbeing’ would then cause confusion.