In his review of Richard Layard's 'Happiness' Andrew Marr asked: "If happiness isn't a political issue, what's the point of politics?" This question really piqued my interest, having worked to bring happiness to isolated people aged 75 and older in the UK for almost 50 years.
Richard Layard proposed that it is happiness as well as income growth that should be a key measurement of national progress. In 2011 with two other influential co-founders, Richard Layard set up Action for Happiness as 'a movement for positive social change...bringing together people from all walks of life who want to play a part in creating a happier society for everyone'.
The government has responded by creating a 'Happiness Index' to measure the nation's wellbeing in terms of "happiness" as well as GDP. For me, this is a reassuring acknowledgement of the importance of happiness in society; a sentiment echoed by Professor Sir Cary Cooper CBE, President of Relate, who reported that, "Good quality relationships remain key to our wellbeing and happiness".
This is precisely what prompts Contact the Elderly' volunteers, now numbering 7400, to "give up" a Sunday afternoon each month to befriend lonely older people nationwide. Time and again our volunteers tell us the main reason they stay us for so long is because their lives are enriched by and made happier by bringing joy to our older guests, view supported by the London School of Economics findings that volunteering makes us happier. Contact the Elderly's volunteers do not regard "giving up a Sunday afternoon" to renew a vital personal link with friends young and old , as a sacrifice, but look forward to these happy events as much as our older guests.
I would urge the government to remember and build on what has been achieved in creating happiness for others across the country. Contact the Elderly has, for the last half century, been injecting joy into the lives of lonely older people by combating isolation. Since 1965 we have created over a million individual happy friendship links for lonely elderly and encouraged more volunteers, in Richard Layard's words, "to take more trouble about the wellbeing of those in need".
By following Mark Twain's recipe, "cheer yourself up by trying to cheer up somebody else", many thousands of Contact the Elderly volunteers have stayed with us for over 20, 30 and even 40 years - a period of voluntary service that is hard to beat - the secret of their longevity lying in the happiness they create for themselves and those they befriend in million happiness enhancing individual friendship links we have created over the last 50 years.
Happiness remains a key political issue requiring Government backing, which for Contact the Elderly will enable us to celebrate our Golden Jubilee, next year, by fulfilling our aim to reach out to many more of the one million neglected elderly off the radar, which the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt rightly described as 'a national disgrace' in October 2013 in a call to action that is still awaited.
In response to Andrew Marr's perceptive comment:" If happiness isn't a political issue, what's the point of politics?" I hope the Government will follow Richard Layard's lead, by not only measuring happiness, but also by encouraging more volunteers to help agencies like Contact the Elderly that receive no government support, to provide more regular cost-effective happiness links for the increasing number of old and vulnerable people at the grassroots, which will save taxpayer's money by reducing visits to hospitals and GPs and calls on social care.