Handbooks of Research Methods and Applications series
Edited by Luigino Bruni and Pier Luigi Porta
Chapter 2: Happiness and social institutions
Dante lamented in The Divine Comedy, ‘Born to ascend on the wings, / Why do ye fall at such a little wind?’1 Why indeed? The contrast between the great things human beings can achieve and how limited the lives most men and women end up having is truly remarkable. Dante’s question, from the early fourteenth century, remains very much alive even today. The potentialities of human beings to lead a good life, to be contented and happy, to be free to choose the kind of life they want to have far exceed what typically we, in fact, manage to do. The vulnerability of human beings arises from a variety of influences, but one of the principal sources of our limitation – as well as our strength (depending on circumstances) – can be the dependence of our individual lives on the nature of the society in which we live. To illustrate the nature of the problem, we do not have to look beyond the crisis that has befallen Europe over the last few years, including widespread misery and suffering, which affects lives in Italy and Greece and Portugal and Britain and France and Germany – indeed nearly all of Europe. It is a huge disaster not only for Europe today but also for Europe’s future. The causation of this disaster is complex, and we have to probe its genesis, accentuation and persistence.
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