I was very impressed by the lectures in the series Happiness: Has Social Science a Clue?, and had been on the lookout for a book ever since. This is it. The overall message is the same: that the "traditional" economic view which says that increased wealth will bring increased happiness is demonstrably wrong: we need to revise the way that society is structured, and policies designed, in order to have a chance of maximising happiness. People's happiness is very much a function of how they perceive their status relative to others, and the materialist society we have, where we are encouraged to believe that we need to buy things to make us happy, actually brings about less happiness.
Because I read (and re-read) the lectures, and have read other books along the same lines (e.g. The High Price of Materialism), much of what the book says doesn't seem revolutionary to me, but it is nice to have so much information in one place.
Layard is very much a utilitarian, and quotes Bentham favourably. For him, happiness==good: he believes that how well a society is doing is measured by how happy its members are. "It is self-evident that the best society is the happiest" [p224].
One criticism of the book is that he can sound a bit over-enthusiastic at times, and when he talks about "the new psychology of happiness" it sounds rather like the sort of statement you'd expect to read in a self-help guide that will soon feel dated. But I think he's on to something, and it's worth reading. Oh, and the other thing is that he has too many footnotes. Some of these are reasonable, e.g. references to other articles. But some are clarifications of points in the text, and I think could have been included in the text or at the bottom of the page (rather than being all lumped together in a 25-page section at the end of the book).
Some of the things I marked as I was reading:
Completed : 25-Sep-2006