The UK government plans to measure people’s psychological and environmental wellbeing, and use the data to steer new policies.
The government’s aim is for respondents to be regularly polled on their happiness, and how well they are achieving their “life goals”.
The government already polls people on their life satisfaction, but experts say the new tests will ask more subjective questions, and will be put to a larger sample size. The combined wellbeing data is intended to have a more central role in policy-making.
Questions are likely to focus on “evaluation”, “experience” and “purpose”, and could include:
-“How satisfied are you with your life these days, on a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 is ‘not at all’ and 10 is ‘completely satisfied’?”
– “Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?”
– “How much purpose does your life have?”
Alongside data sets on life satisfaction, there will be more objective data on levels of sustainability and recycling.
In Opposition, Cameron called for general wellbeing to be assessed alongside traditional economic indicators, claiming there was “more to life than money.”
Speaking at the Google Zeitgeist Europe conference in 2006, Cameron said: “Wellbeing can’t be measured by money or traded in markets. It’s about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture and, above all, the strength of our relationships.”
On 25 November, the government will ask the Office of National Statistics to produce measures to implement Cameron’s plans. The independent national statistician, Jil Matheson, will devise questions to add to the existing household survey by as early as next spring. It will be up to Matheson to choose the questions.
A government source told the Guardian results could be published quarterly in the same way as the British crime survey, but the exact intervals are yet to be agreed.
The source said: “The aim is to produce a fresh set of data, some of it new, some of using existing data sets currently not very well used, to be published – at a frequency to be decided – that assesses the psychological and physical wellbeing of people around the UK.
“So that’s objective measurements of, for instance, how much recycling gets done around the UK, alongside more subjective measures of psychology and attitudes.”
British officials say there is hesitation in some parts of Whitehall about going ahead with the plans in such difficult economic times. However, almost 30 MPs have signed a Commons motion calling for the move, arguing that promoting happiness and well-being is “a legitimate and important goal of government”.
If the plans go ahead, Britain will be among the first countries to officially monitor happiness. France and Canada are considering similar measures. Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposals intend to gauge how much time people spend sitting in traffic jams, the ratio of working hours to leisure time, and whether men and women are treated fairly in the workplace and home.
The Guardian began carrying out a brief “happiness poll” of their own today. So far, 66.7% have answered “no” when asked “are you happy?” on the Guardian website. Votes are counted every 60 seconds, and polling will close on Wednesday.
Commenting on the website, readers have generally been hostile towards the idea.
One said: “happy?? HAPPY??? just had 80% of care allowance stopped! why? health better? no. fit again? no. Crippled, wheelchair users, limbs missing, broken bodies, damaged minds paying for bankers greed??? YES!!!!”
Another reader said: “This is ridiculous. Do they not have anything better to do, for example the public sector needs to be reduced, taxes cut and VAT abolished in order to create growth and stimulate the economy.”
A third reader said: “Don’t you think the problem with this is, you may very well be happy in your personal life and have a generally very positive approach to life while also being spitting mad and furious with the bloody government and terrified for the well being and happiness of those less fortunate than yourself? Isn’t “happiness” a rather glib assessment of what makes life good?”