Monday, 16 January 2012

The Happiness Index

On the radio today I heard that our UK Government wishes to introduce a way of measuring the wellbeing of the population, to ensure people are getting what they need. Various comments were made about this, including what a good move it was to measure things in terms of mental wellbeing as well as income ...and also that it was completely ridiculous, as what makes people happy can vary widely from person to person.

It strikes me that there is a lacuna between wellbeing and happiness, but in the discussion people were using them interchangeably today, as if they are the same thing. Are they really? My wellbeing is measured by home comforts, the welfare of my children, square meals and if I've helped out a person in my job that day. Or, I think it is. Can we really measure what makes us feel secure and comforted? And is that what makes me happy? It seems that people are chasing happiness at every chance, in a bar of chocolate, at the bottom of a bottle, in that 'perfect' figure or the man of their dreams. What we think makes us happy often eludes a questionnaire going to help us understand?

Wellbeing, as I properly understand it, means quality of life. This can mean good health, education, and other aspects not necessarily associated with a higher income, including leisure time and pursuits. How many times have I thought the grass is greener for those without three children to chase after....those who 'only' have to deal with the working world and be responsible for themselves...those who don't get to have children to enjoy. While I prize my leisure time (especially that used watching Series 2 of Downton Abbey!) it's the graft that gives me rewards. And I think it's the same for most people, but it's not easy to realise or quantify.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for moments of true joy breaking through. Music, children's laughter, the delight in a plot twist, laughter at a funny story - I experience happiness at a sublime level through these. But is the Government going to bring me these? Or are they going to be part of a life beset with a few troubles, with myriad twists and turns, brief punctuations of ecstasy in an otherwise ordinary existence? And would it so bad if they were all I had?

And to equate this with 'Happiness' -it may be too big a leap. Contentment, joy, security and recreation are different aspects of our mental and physical wellbeing. Striving to be happy, focusing too much on the objective, can often lead us away from it. Christianity, by contrast, points us away from the self, to the needs of others, whom we serve as best we are able, and suddenly find we are made happy. Yes, there is a requirement that we feel okay before we start - we need to take care of ourselves before we are in any position to look after others. But I could spend years chasing after something to make me happy, for self-fulfilment even, without ever getting anywhere near achieving it, when it is just within arm's reach. Oh, wait a minute - I actually *did*. Thank God I opened my eyes.

Happily (?), I now have to switch my attention to my online grocery delivery and think about this topic when I'm less tired. After all, as that great fount of all that is verifiable, Wikipedia, says, "Happiness is a Fuzzy Concept." I'm looking forward to reading what the newspapers say on this one....not least on whether they think the role of Government should be involved in anything like this, let alone spending taxpayers' money on  assessing wellbeing.

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