Monday, November 15, 2010

Measuring happiness

This year The Social Report added a new "life satisfaction" metric. This is part of an international trend to start measuring life satisfaction or happiness, born of the recognition that economists' simplistic equation of GDP with happiness or utility was largely false once the economy provided for people's basic needs.

The UK is the latest country to follow this trend:

The UK government is poised to start measuring people's psychological and environmental wellbeing, bidding to be among the first countries to officially monitor happiness.

Despite "nervousness" in Downing Street at the prospect of testing the national mood amid deep cuts and last week's riot in Westminster, the Office of National Statistics will shortly be asked to produce measures to implement David Cameron's long-stated ambition of gauging "general wellbeing".

It will be interesting to see what the results are, especially given the Conservatives' program of cuts. At the same time, its easy to be cynical - Cameron wants satisfaction measured quarterly rather than annually, meaning he will effectively be getting the Office of National Statistics to do a big chunk of his political polling for him (in that sharp decreases in satisfaction probably spell bad news for the government in a democracy). And on the gripping hand, if it results in a government which pays attention to satisfaction, rather than just growth, and goes out of its way to avoid making people unhappy, then that is a Good Thing, in that it will be giving people the government they want. Which means we should be asking why our government doing the same? We'll only be measuring life satisfaction every three years or so. Surely, if its a meaningful indicator, we should be measuring it more often than that?