Jiehae Choi is a Research and Program Analyst at the Legatum Institute, where Nathan Gamester also also works as a Research Assistant.
Recent media coverage has indicated that the Government will draw up a set of questions that will measure Britons’ happiness in terms of their psychological and environmental wellbeing.
Understanding the importance of wellbeing and happiness in society has been a concern with a long history. Aristotle famously pondered the nature of happiness in his text Eudemonia. The American Founding Fathers included the pursuit of happiness as one of the fundamental tenets of the Declaration of Independence, and eighteenth century English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who advocated for utilitarianism, argued that the goodness of an action should be judged by its consequences on human happiness. More recently in 1968, Robert F. Kennedy emphasised the limitations of economic indicators such as the Gross National Product, in determining wellbeing, explaining that it “measures everything... except that which makes life worthwhile.”
Within the current Government, the history of this initiative can be traced back to pre-election speeches made by David Cameron and his cabinet colleagues and was formalised in the June 2010 Budget document, stating that:
“There is widespread acknowledgement that GDP is not the ideal measure of well-being... The Government is committed to developing broader indicators of wellbeing and sustainability...”
Levels of citizen wellbeing (or measurements of “happiness”) are undoubtedly important to overall national wellbeing and have direct applicability to government policy. It is commendable that the Government aims to understand the state of the country’s emotional health.
But if the Government desires to create policies that promote citizen wellbeing, it is important to distinguish between a citizen’s transient emotional happiness and their deeper cognition of what truly would make for a fulfilled life.