top of page

Exclusive Services

Welcome to EAHK's social dinner and discussion.

Today's discussion:


How important is it to increase happiness rather than to relieve suffering?

Discussion during dinner will start with Dr. Michael Plant's talk on: What are the best ways to improve world happiness?


Link to video (27mins):


In his talk and current work with the Happier Lives Institute, Michael argues that, contrary to the apparent consensus within EA, poverty and physical health should not be the top priorities. He suggests we focus directly on mental health, pain, and what he calls ‘ordinary human unhappiness’ instead. 

Summary of Michael Plant's talk:

  1. Increasing the happiness of currently existing people is intrinsically good, but little research has been done on the most effective ways to improve world happiness.

  2. Poverty and physical health may not be top priorities for improving happiness; mental health and ordinary human unhappiness should be focused on instead.

  3. Hedonic adaptation and social comparison may explain why economic growth does not necessarily lead to increased life satisfaction.

  4. For example, efforts to reduce poverty and improve physical health through initiatives like GiveDirectly and deworming may have limited effects on long- lasting happiness due to hedonic adaptation and social comparisons..

  5. Focusing on non-adaptive and non-comparative problems, such as mental health, pain, and ordinary human unhappiness, can lead to more effective interventions.

  6. Psychotherapies like CBT can durably improve life satisfaction for depression/anxiety at a lower cost than cash transfers or health interventions per life year.

  7. Restrictions on opioids and lack of training limit access to pain treatment in developing countries, though reforms could help close the "pain gap" for low costs.

  8. Overall, targeting mental health and pain directly may do more to increase happiness than focusing on poverty or physical health alone.

Question 1

How important is it to increase happiness rather than to relieve suffering?

Question 2

How does mental healthcare compare to other health interventions?

Question 3

What do you think is the strongest/weakest argument for/against this?

Question 4

How might cause prioritisation change based on whether or not an individual holds a person-affecting view? 

*Person-affecting view: Act is only bad if it is bad for someone → no obligation to create happy people

Question 5

What are additional considerations for/against abandoning economic development as a means to reduce suffering? 

Question 6

Did the talk cause you to update your beliefs about doing good in any way? If so, how? If not, why not?

More to explore:

  1. Cause profile: mental health (Michael Plant, 2018)

  2. The philosophy of wellbeing - Reading list from the Happier Lives Institute

  3. Top Mental Health and Happiness Charity Ideas We're Researching in 2020 (Idea Prioritization Report)

bottom of page