In April 2011, the Office for National Statistics started measuring ‘happiness’. The decision of the coalition government to create a ‘happiness index’ follows increasing debate about whether governments should concern themselves with our happiness, as well as criticism of the narrow focus on measures of economic output (such as Gross Domestic Product) as a measure of national success.
In 2005, New Labour’s ‘Happiness Tsar’, Lord Layard, argued that “Happiness should become the goal of policy, and the progress of national happiness should be measured”. Layard and others cite the ‘Easterlin Paradox’ — while we may have got richer year by year, we haven’t got any happier — in support of their stance that governments need to develop policy goals more orientated towards the achievement of happiness. As such, the aim, for Prime Minister David Cameron and the coalition government, is to address happiness and wellbeing as part of its economic policy.
But while few would deny the desirability of happiness, it doesn’t necessarily follow that its promotion should be the concern of government. Can and should the aim government be to promote happiness? Indeed, can this even be measured? Could a government really be an expert on what makes us happy? Or are individuals entirely responsible for their own happiness? Should happiness even be the point of life anyway — or might a focus on happiness as an end devalue choices that may be discomforting, but worthwhile, such as hard work, sacrifice, struggling to better oneself and/or society?