On July 12, 2012, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed March 20 as the World Day of Happiness and Prosperity. That’s why we talk about happiness in social problem with sociologist Jean Viard, director of research at CNRS.
Franceinfo: What is the happy society of Jean Viard, is it a French society?
John Wyard: In fact, happiness is individual. You see, before the pandemic, 75% of French people said they were happy. After the pandemic, now there are 80% of them. Basically, we are a society of happy people, because when you are sick, we treat you, you have a child at school, etc. and since individual happiness is in our societies, we underestimate this element too much, because we are drowning in a poll society , INSEE data, etc. There are humble, happy people. There are poor, happy people. There are desperate rich people. It’s true that rich people are a little happier than others, let’s be realistic. But this is not a fundamental criterion.
Currently, 70% of the French have gardens. Their big problem is, will it rain, how do I prune my roses, it doesn’t fit into any statistic. And just like that, there are all people in love, and so on. That is why I say that we are a society of happy people. On the other hand, indeed, society is not happy, that is, I often say: “private happiness, public misfortune.” Indeed, we do not know where France is going. We really don’t know what our future will be, where the world is heading. We are not very confident in winning the climate battle. Let’s not even talk about wars and pandemics.
So, we are in a society of happy people, we must say and repeat this, because otherwise we do not understand anything in what is happening. Society is not in fire and blood, etc. Why ? Because most people are happy, but they are happy in a society that is really a bit of a mess, but not especially in French society.
If happiness is individual, then the state, politicians should take care of our happiness, offer us conditions so that we can find it?
This is a bit like the idea of totalitarian countries. I think that the role of the state is to support the “leaders”, so that the school works well, so that the hospitals work well, so that the security service works. The state guarantees us a structure and a project that also guarantees us an education for our children, a peaceful or pleasant retirement, and it is this structure that comes into play. But afterwards, this is the path you take there, this is your path within that framework. I tend to think: I don’t really like it when the state takes care of my happiness.
They say that happiness is not in money, but still, obviously, the question arises. There, for example, they tell us that inflation, price increases at the moment will be continuous. This inevitably worries some French people. How dangerous is this for personal happiness?
Yes, it is disturbing, but at the same time momentary. Of course, there are people who are currently having problems filling in, etc., so this causes them concern, I completely agree with this. But let’s not forget the main point, which is that we are a relatively peaceful, relatively tight-knit society with tensions. In the media, this is normal, they focus on tense aspects. This is logic. The story of trains arriving on time is of no interest to anyone. It’s right.
Especially since people watch movies in the evening. If there are no murders, rapes and robberies, they will not be watched, if these are the ordinary everyday life of a village school teacher … I say this because no, not because we put forward peaks of tension – and more and more in our societies of continuous information that people are becoming more and more worried.
There are people who have income problems. I understand this very well, since the rise in prices is connected, in particular, with the Ukrainian crisis. But let’s not confuse that with the fact that they can still be happy.
Maybe there is a generational climate concern that you mentioned that is very strong among the younger generation? Could this be a source of inequality in the face of happiness?
Especially if they can’t fight, for example fight global warming, neither political opinions nor research. The ability to act is an extremely important part of happiness. It’s like an opportunity to work, etc.
Being an actor basically increases your happiness because you have an impact on reality. What’s terrible about Ukraine is that we can’t act. We can give them weapons, we can greet them, etc., but fundamentally we cannot send soldiers and see how people are being killed, and we cannot do anything, because there is a nuclear threat. I am a firm believer in action to give meaning to life.