Monday, November 14, 2011

Bottom Up Happiness

Is happiness personal? Britain's Office for National Statistics has just issued a discussion paper on the measurement of national well-being, inviting feedback ahead of a measurement exercise next year. They propose measuring multiple 'levels' of happiness - from the personal to the social to the political.

A recent debate organised by Open Democracy has pointed to potential problems with this approach. Firstly, it puts the emotional state of individuals at the centre of national 'happiness policy'. And emotions are - to say the least - quite fickle in most people's experience. Moreover there are profound cultural differences in perceptions of well-being and the sources of life satisfaction - as evident right across Europe. Nor is there any real consensus on what is happiness, never mind how to measure it, as I've noted before.

Still, the ONS initiative does contribute to an important debate. As the prospects for growth in Europe (including the UK) fade we might benefit from a reappraisal of what really matters to our country, our families and ourselves. Even if we discover there isn't much politicians can do about it.

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