Happiness could help Scotland shift sick man of Europe tag, says TV doctor

·3-min read
Rangan Chatterjee, c Chris Terry
Rangan Chatterjee, c Chris Terry

If Scots were happier, would we be healthier? TV doctor, Rangan Chatterjee thinks so and in an interview in the Herald magazine to be published tomorrow has said that happiness is the missing element in most public health and medical strategies, and addressing it would help solve Scotland's health problems.

Scotland is still frequently referred to as the sick man of Europe, and a a former student of Edinburgh Medical School, who started his working life here, Chatterjee is well aware of that. “Even when I was at med school, back in 1995,” Chatterjee said, “there was all this stuff about Glasgow in the press. We were hearing about Scottish habits. It seems to me there are multiple ways of tackling this. My book, Happy Mind, Happy Life, clearly is trying to do something for readers as individuals. And that works up to a point. But there are other levels at which things have to change.”

One means of producing a bigger change, in which Chatterjee is actively involved, is in the training of doctors and other professionals. He has created a course in prescribing lifestyle medicine, fully accredited by the Royal College of GPs, which has already trained 3500 people.

But even that, he notes, is not going to be enough. There is something bigger again. “Really this about the way we set society up. It’s about what we value as a society. The problem is in these capitalist societies where we measure everything according to the GDP, and the economy. We need to go upstream. We need to restructure how schools operate, how workplaces operate, what we value as a society.”

Chatterjee is also an advocate for the four-day week. “Imagine a scenario where you weren’t getting overworked and your personal time was valued and respected. You probably would get sick a lot less. You probably wouldn’t need to read one of my books or go see your doctor because your lifestyle wouldn’t be stressing you out so much. I would love it if that happened. I would love a scenario where no one needs to write health books anymore.”

The idea that we should, in terms of public health and societal wellbeing, be paying attention to happiness is not new. The economist and New Labour 'happiness tsar' Richard Layard kick-started the discussion of wellbeing in the UK. In 2005, Layard published the book Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, and more recently came back to the subject with Can We Be Happier? In 2020 Nicola Sturgeon said that rather than GDP, "the goal and objective of all economic policy should be collective wellbeing". But happiness itself still not quite taken seriously as a metric, or properly addressed in terms of policies.

As Chatterjee said, “I think happiness has almost become a toxic term these days. It’s a bit unfashionable. People will say no, it’s not happiness, it’s meaning or purpose or it’s about contentment. Meaning and purpose are important, but I do genuinely believe happiness is what everyone wants.”

Dr Rangan Chatterjee will be speaking at The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh on May 16 at 7.30pm. His new book, Happy Mind, Happy Life: 10 Simple Ways to Feel Great Every Day, is out now.

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