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Bok, Wife Discuss Happiness

By Benjamin M. Scuderi, Contributing Writer

Former Harvard President Derek C. Bok debated with his wife Sissela Bok how to find happiness at the Harvard Graduate School of Education last night.

Both have written books on happiness published earlier this year. But neither had an answer for the audience.

“[Happiness research] is a growing field, and no one is really an expert,” Derek Bok said.

His book, “The Politics of Happiness,” focuses on how to incorporate happiness in the crafting of public policy.

Bok argued that on a broader level, what makes people happy will be good for society.

“Happiness is not a zero-sum game,” he said.

Bok pointed to the Bhutan government’s use of “gross national happiness” as an alternative to gross domestic product to measure a nation’s prosperity.

Simply focusing on maximizing economic wealth, he argued, is not enough to increase a country’s overall level of happiness.

In the United States, for example, economic growth has not been associated with an increase in Americans’ happiness.

Sissela Bok, a visiting fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, said she had not been interested in the academic study of happiness until her husband showed her data that listed Sweden, her home country, as the happiest in the world.

Her book, “Exploring Happiness,” also published this year, explores the philosophical nature of happiness.

She argued that people often struggle to find experiences that will keep them happy. She suggested that art or music has the capacity to sustain people’s levels of happiness.

The audience, which included graduate students and faculty, peppered the couple with questions ranging from how young people should view happiness to how the two approached research and writing.

Nina Teng, a second-year at Harvard Kennedy School who worked on the Gross National Happiness Commission of Bhutan, said Bhutan is one of the few countries in the world to consciously incorporate happiness in public policy.

“I appreciated their views on understanding happiness on a deeper level and also its potential application to policy,” she said.

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