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Happy Now?

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Apparently, for decades the Government has been focusing on the wrong measure to determine its policies and to assess their success. It is not GDP which demonstrates how well we are doing, but "happiness". Some people who know me might say I am not best qualified to give a view on "happiness" (miserableness, now that's another thing altogether), but I have never let a lack of knowledge on a subject preventing me from expressing an opinion on it so my views are these.

First, happiness, much like pain, has a threshold. Some people are naturally content with their lot, whatever life may throw at them, while others often more privileged and with significantly less to worry about, are never satisfied and always seen to hanker for something (usually precisely the thing they don't need and shouldn't get). If you are doing a survey, what happens if the results are skewed by finding a lot of the former (or indeed the latter) people? We might totally misjudge how happy we are as a nation which in turn could lead us in a very different and misplaced direction in terms of our policies.

Secondly, how do you judge "happiness" anyway? Isn't it so abstract a concept that trying to measure it is meaningless (and if I am honest, my level of happiness fluctuates hugely over the course of a day, never mind a week, and ask me if my football team has won or lost and you are likely to get wildly different responses). If happiness does fluctuate and is often transient doesn't that again make it impossible to draw meaningful conclusions?

As an aspiration, I cannot fault the ambition to improve and increase our overall happiness. Having said that, while GDP (for example) is a crude measure of progress because it operates at only a national level, it is precisely progress that we are trying to measure. I am all in favour of ensuring that what we test is relevant, but I think that needs to stay firmly based on objective criteria, rather than on the subjective and not necessarily reliable feeling of a small group of interviewees. Now about that test for miserableness...

Posted: 02/04/2014 09:45:34
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