A sense of wellbeing is what really matters in life, and this should be at the heart of all politics

Last year’s Festival of Wellbeing was an inspiring occasion. On 12 October, 300 people gathered at the Bishopsgate Institute in London to celebrate life, Nature and the human spirit. The talks were punctuated with poetry, music and dance. The entire day was broadcast live on the internet and the proceedings can be viewed on Policy Review TV.

The purpose of the festival was to remind us that there is more to life than economic growth. The UK is the sixth-richest country in the world, yet as a society we don’t feel a sense of contentment, fulfilment or satisfaction with life. Government ministers, bankers, business leaders, media and the economists continue to chant the mantra “economic growth, economic growth and more economic growth”. We never stop for a moment to think and ask the question: Is this endless economic growth sustainable? And what after all is the raison d’être of the economy?

It was not a coincidence that soon after the festival there were voices challenging the political obsession with the economic paradigm. In an interview with the BBC Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman, the actor and comedian Russell Brand spoke powerfully about his disillusionment with body politics. All the major political parties pursue the same projects that promote a neoliberal market economy, leaving fragmented families, broken communities and a disenchanted population in their wake. Inequality grows; people suffer from ill health, depression and disappointment. Voting doesn’t change anything. Political establishments stick to business as usual, whoever is in power. Parties change, but policies and politics remain more or less the same.

We need a new movement of awareness and action to bring meaning to life and to put community wellbeing at the heart of politics. Instead of economic growth we need growth in wellbeing.

In a different way, but with a similar spirit, the British ceramicist Grayson Perry in his BBC Reith Lectures last year spoke passionately about the place of poetry, arts and crafts in our daily lives. In order to discover the deeper meaning of life we must stop the economy destroying our culture and communities.

The purpose of arts and education is not merely to serve the economy, but to liberate the human spirit. Personal, social and planetary wellbeing is enhanced only when people are free of fear. The paradigm of ‘never enough’ is the mother of fear. A timid and fearful population suits big business and the media. Freedom from fear is the essential imperative for every kind of wellbeing. A healthy society is a society free of fear.

Following on from his television interview, Russell Brand wrote in The Guardian: “If we all … collaborate together we can design a new system that makes the current one obsolete. The reality is that there are alternatives.”

Coming from celebrities like Russell Brand and Grayson Perry this is most hopeful. Economics has a place, but let us put it in its place. Let us not allow it to dominate all aspects of our lives. Let us put wellbeing at the heart of our politics and let the economy be the servant and not the master.

A number of talks from the Festival of Wellbeing are reproduced in this issue. Please enjoy reading them and watching them on the website.

Watch footage of the Resurgence Festival of Wellbeing 2013: tinyurl.com/wellbeing2013 The 2014 Festival of Wellbeing will be held on the 11 October in London.

Satish Kumar is Editor in Chief at Resurgence & Ecologist.