Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Britain's well-being unbuttoned.

Anne Frank wrote that “we all live with the objective of being happy,” and to gauge how we are getting on, this week the Office for National Statistics revealed the results of our first national wellbeing survey. Launched towards the end of 2010, this was David Cameron’s happiness index, a drive to discern our success more from the size of our smiles than our surplus shekels. To recap, then, as now, we had none.

The Prime Minister said; “It's time we admitted that there's more to life than money and it's time we focused not just on GDP but on GWB – general wellbeing.” The ONS budget for harnessing the happy stats is £2 million a year, and it aspires towards a better appreciation of what actually makes us happy, in order to make that illusive reality easier to reach for. “Improving our society's sense of wellbeing is, I believe, the central political challenge of our times,” Mr Cameron concluded.

Greeted by Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Michael Dughner as “a statement of the bleeding-obvious”, the survey found our most satisfied souls to be teenagers and the elderly, residents of Orkney and Shetland and married home-owners in steady employment. Greater minds than mine will no doubt deal with the more delicate deductions, but it appears that avoiding the rat race is as much a worthy way to wellbeing as winning it. By and large, those questioned were happier in work than unemployed, and yet the more satisfied sections of society were revealed as those least likely to have a full-time job. Home-owners were generally more content than their counterparts in rented accommodation, and yet teenagers were amongst the happiest overall, but the least likely to have a mortgage. Interestingly, black people taking part in the survey considered themselves less content than those questioned from Indian origin.

Although looking beyond the pursuit of profit is no doubt a noble cause, how exactly these findings filter into government policy may be as difficult to discern as the key to contentment itself. HHkkkHowever, Mr Cameron can take comfort from the fact that he is not alone in striving to broaden the basis for defining success. Nicolas Sarkozy commissioned a similar report, in 2009, seeking to crack “the cult of the market”, and feature national wellbeing in GDP figures. And we all know what happened to him.

In all, the Office for National Statistics present a predictably mixed picture, pointing to conclusions many might be forgiven for thinking self-evident. Perhaps it’s your attitude to your lot, not whether you have a lot, or not, that sets the scale of your smile.

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