Avid press followers will no doubt be aware that the government is attempting to create a national measure of happiness, a consensual understanding as to what constitutes our national sense of well being. Bitter an cynical as I am I may comment that this will be in order that they can re-package it through a PFI deal and sell it back to us at a reasonable profit. The initial questionnaire is available on the link http://www.ons.gov.uk/well-being and you lucky Brits out there have until the 15th of April to contribute. The Office of National Statistics who have been handed this headache have set out on the process of accruing public opinion and comment as to what we mean by the terms ‘happiness’ and ‘well-being’ and the kind of criterion that may be considered in achieving an effective ‘measure’ of them. I have proffered answers to their suggestions, which follow, (their question in italics). Whilst I find the notion of a national scale of happiness hugely amusing, indeed I feel much happier that anyone could conceive of such a thing, I can’t help but worry as to what use this thing may be applied. Suggestions on a postcard please… or in the comments box, whichever.
There is a blog accompanying the process that thus far seems not to have attracted floods of well-contented beings.
What matters in life?
Well-being needs to be defined before it can be measured. Through the National Well-being Debate the ONS is asking people what it is that affects their well-being – what makes your life a good one, and what makes it not so good?
Some of the things that have been suggested as affecting individual well-being are:
- relationships – with a partner, with family, friends and the wider
- the well-being of our children
- job satisfaction
- freedom and democracy
- religious faith and spirituality
Join the debate: what matters to you?
Whilst some number of things may be important to me, the nodal determining factor in all of them is security. My health, as possessor of a chronic condition is not a worry, as long as the necessary medications remain available on a free at delivery NHS. Relationships are not a concern for me, I have always practiced The Big Society before anyone thought it may be a handy election pledge, having held office and worked in a number of charities, and am happily married. The threat to security in my community organisations through economic policy, my threatened redundancy, and the governments threat to remove my disabled partners benefits, may change this irreparably. Speaking of my job, yes it is very satisfying but is woefully undervalued; my experience ignored, my proposals and ideas rejected, and yes, is underpaid. Not that I am driven by money but having my qualifications and experience recognised would improve my sense of proportion and not make me feel that study and qualification was not a pointless waste of time. As I work in education the well being of children is a paramount concern for me and I am sorely distressed at the unitisation and comodification of education to the extent that anyone can get an education but learning things is actually becoming impossible. The notion that we live in freedom is ridiculous. Democracy in western society is simply the sugar that permits the wealthy to increase their wealth at the expense of the majority. My faith is my own. informed by my spirituality and will remain so. Income - As someone currently earning only 55% of what I was earning 7-8 years ago, I can't honestly say that it is critical in considering my happiness quotient, but facing redundancy for the third time already in my working life does not excite me. Unemployment is soul-destroying but being forced into low grade poorly paid employment would be worse. I am not an unhappy person. But I fear I may have reason to become so. My securities seem to be tenuous and only defended by my personal optimism, work ethic, community life and secure marriage. These will remain because they are of me, and not some peculiar notion that happiness can be created by government policy. If policy should tend towards anything, it should be to greater justice and security, which allows contentment and security to flourish, rather than opportunism for the few and greed amongst the many.
What is well-being?
Is there more to national well-being than happiness? What else matters?
Thinking beyond the individual – at a national level – what affects the nation’s well-being? Should we just measure happiness or life satisfaction – what the media have been calling a ‘happiness index’ – or is national well-being much more complex than the sum of our individual feelings?
Some of the things that have been suggested as affecting national well-being are:
- poverty levels
- life expectancy
- educational attainment
- crime rates
- depression rates
- feelings of trust in the community
- national sporting achievement
Join the debate: what matters to you?
I think that I have answered much of this in my previous response and have dealt with my thoughts about wealth and poverty. I spend a good deal of my life dealing with teenagers suffering socio-economic disparities and remain appalled with the waste of young lives that is incurred for the lack of real investment in education and preparation for life. Life expectancy? I can't ever remember waking up and thinking, 'Oh joyous day, for I know my life expectancy has increased." Not afraid of death, in fact a good lie down might be nice. Security and confidence that tomorrow will be much the same as today. I still have a home, I have sufficient food and warmth (It's all very Maslow!). I have the opportunity for consciously rewarding work and the affirmation that comes with that (Herzberg). Educational attainment is important to me insofar as I believe learning is important, indeed the defining human characteristic (Dewey). Gaining educational qualifications has proven to be a shallow experience but I have never regretted learning. Depression, I'm not sure it really exists, although I am prepared to accept the teaching of those with appropriate qualification to determine this. I do feel the distribution of anti-depressant medication much as Smarites is not a good thing.
I have no problem trusting my community, but am disturbed with inability of others to do so, the mutual fear and distrust that is created by the competition for resources. My contribution to National Sporting Achievement will be to leave the country for the entire duration of The Olympics next year. That is how important it is to me. I shall make many others much happier by depriving them of my general disinterest and cynicism about such things. If you want to do such things then fine but please don't expect me to join in, or accuse me of being un-patriotic because I don't want to. I find it palpably ridiculous that any vestige of patriotic sporting glamour would or could have an effect on my sense of well-being. Making Football illegal would be a positive policy move I would vote for, that would make me happy.
The essential difficulty in this 'measuring' will be in reaching agreeable definitions of the terms 'well-being' and 'happiness'. I presume this exercise is recognition of this difficulty and an attempt to create some indices by which further research can be measured. I am pleased to take part and would ask you to consider that it is the taking part that makes it all worthwhile. Contentment, security and justice are all born of participation. Government policy, if it is to recognise this and change accordingly could do worse than consider what it's economic practice and general policy-making achieve in increasing or decreasing participation.
COMMENT: Themethatisme's own blog is currently for invited readers only due to Big Brother activity.