Englishman Jeremy Bentham was the first philosopher to posit a pragmatic “greatest happiness principle.” He said that the greatest civilization has the happiest citizenry and, therefore, policies that increase the happiness of the largest number of people are the best ones to follow. However, until recently, little was known about human happiness, and governments stopped using Bentham’s happiness principle as a guideline.
Instead, individualism reframed the conversation about happiness, especially in the West, where people believed that a rich society is a happy society and, therefore, market statistics could measure whether people were happy. But human nature doesn’t fit easily into an economic formula; in fact, some elements of human happiness have nothing to do with economic success. As high achievers often find, putting yourself first doesn’t do much for your overall happiness. On the contrary, deep satisfaction comes from a sense of contributing to the “common good.”