Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Guardian Unlimited | Columnists | Will Hutton: How would Confucius vote?

Guardian Unlimited | Columnists | Will Hutton: How would Confucius vote?

. . . But the larger point is that the overwhelming majority of British volunteers are secular. They work for local welfare groups and hospitals, for children and the elderly, in schools, protecting animals and the environment. And their numbers increase by a million a year.

The reason they do so would hardly surprise Confucius; they want to put something back in an act of altruism that allows them to make a statement about what counts both to themselves and to others. Confucius raised this proposition to a code for life; the propriety or 'li' with which everybody, from court official to peasant, regulated their interactions with others was vital as a lived statement about how the integrity of social relationships created well-being; that the more harmonious they are, the better it is for individual and society alike.

This proposition is at the heart of Richard Layard's bestselling book, Happiness: Lessons from a New Science. Layard shows that it is now scientifically possible to show that the more we are in high-quality social relationships, the more the happiness hot spots in the brain light up. Intriguingly, in study after study, the British towns and cities that have . . .


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