British government wants to measure people's happiness
So it can "help"
Hundreds of thousands of people will be asked whether they think the lives they lead are “worthwhile” as part of David Cameron’s plan to measure the nation’s wellbeing.
Government researchers will begin questioning the first 200,000 over-16s across Britain from April to assess how satisfied they are with their lives on a scale of 0 to 10, and how anxious or happy they feel.
Further research is expected to focus on detailed areas that affect individuals’ perceptions of their own happiness, such as the state of their marriage, friendships and personal health.
The initiative has a budget of £2 million a year with the first four questions in the initial survey of 200,000 people costing £500,000 to conduct, according to the Office for National Statistics, which is running the scheme.
The Prime Minister believes the state can have a role in helping citizens “feel better” and has argued that successful governments should improve the quality of life as well as the strength of the economy.
His programme to develop Britain’s first “wellbeing index” follows a similar initiative in France, announced by President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The ONS drew heavily on the recommendations of the French commission when drafting the first questions to be used to measure “subjective wellbeing” in this country.
Initially, four new questions will be included in the ONS’s integrated household survey from April. Respondents will be asked to give answers on a scale of 0 to 10 to the following questions:
· Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?
· Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?
· Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?
· Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?
Paul Allin, head of the wellbeing project at the ONS, said he was confident the questions would produce robust results and that any bias in the answers would be ironed out across such a large sample. “We essentially trust people to give us the answers they give us and we will work what they say,” he said.
Ultimately, the project aims to create a set of results against which the changing health of the nation’s feelings about itself can be measured. Officials also want to enable comparisons to be made between Britain and other countries and will be working with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Mr Allin said: “Subjective wellbeing is one approach to understanding and measuring the wellbeing of the nation. While we want to produce consistent results over time, we will initially regard the results as experimental. There is more work to be done.”
In developing the new questions, the ONS commissioned further research into subjective wellbeing. It found that life satisfaction in Britain had failed to keep pace with rising household income and GDP over the past 40 years.
Other findings from the report, which reviewed a wide range of existing research, suggested that women are generally more satisfied with their lives than men and young people are happier than the middle-aged.
Married people are happier than those who are unmarried and it is more important to “keep up with the Joneses” and match the income of your peer group than to have objectively high rates of pay.
However, the study also suggested that it is possible to be too happy. Excessively happy people can be “gullible” and make “careless” decisions. The optimum level of happiness is to be at seven or eight out of 10, the research said.