What does happiness mean to you?

“there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials… (it) measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile….”

Was this perhaps David Cameron speaking at the launch of the Government Happiness Index yesterday?

In fact it was Robert Kennedy speaking on the inability of the American Gross National Product to fully reflect the needs of society during his ill-fated run for President in 1968.

However one should not be churlish about the launch of the National Wellbeing Project yesterday. This is a long-overdue piece of public policy work as the pioneering Kennedy speech shows.

A widening of measurement beyond the rational economics of the UK Gross Domestic Product enables us to consider what really constitutes happiness.

Will this be the same for everyone or should we take account of people’s values?

A beautiful sunrise on holiday might be seen by an inner directed “Pioneer” as an aesthetically pleasing experience to savour or by an outer directed “Prospector” as a ready opportunity to get the suntan lotion out to tone the body beautiful. Both will be equally happy but for very different reasons.

As the work of the World Values Survey in this field seems to show, people are clearly happy when they satisfy their needs and can then seek fresh challenges. The satisfying of those needs determines their values, emotional state and motivation.

The danger is that without an understanding and mindfulness of all the values that exist out in society, there is a possibility that a Happiness Index is mostly likely to reflect the inner-directed values of its likely authors as well as perhaps also a set of “objective” numbers around “quality of life”. Any delving into the emotional state of the nation may be no more than an “are you happy?” question on a 1-5 scale which will only be a skin-deep study of the real values and emotions of people in the country.

A Happiness Index should not only tell us how happy or unhappy people are, it should also give us the pointers as to how we can directly improve things, in the way that values based segmentation already does within behaviour change interventions.

Jonathan Upton is the Chairman of The Campaign Company.

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One Response to “What does happiness mean to you?”

  1. Should the new Well-Being Index also measure motivation and values? « The Campaign Company’s Blog Says:

    […] have blogged before about the Government’s consultation on the development of a national Well-being Index. This […]

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