Global Happiness?

It seems it is not only China which intend to use the ‘happiness’ of its population as a input for national policy. In November, 2010 The Guardian outlined the thoughts from David Cameron on the idea that the nation’s happiness was an important indicator, and therefore should be part of national policy and receive political attention. So, from April this year, the Office for National Statistics will start to collect data for the first official Happiness Index 2012.

So how do you measure a nation’s  happiness? This the question the Office for National Statistics is trying to answer by holding a public consultation to develop a suitable selection of measures to indicate national well-being.

” The aim is that these new measures will cover the quality of life of people in the UK, environmental and sustainability issues, as well as the economic performance of the country.To develop better measures of the nation’s well-being we want to consult with people, organisations and business across the UK as well as central and local government to ask what matters most in people lives and what is important for measuring the nation’s well-being.” ONS Website

At present it intends to include issues surrounding: income and wealth, job satisfaction and economic security; ability to have a say on local and national issues, having good connections with friends and relatives; present and future conditions of the environment; crime; health, education and training, personal and cultural activities, including caring and volunteering.

This consultation is open until 15 April until 2011 so there is still time to let the government know what you think. You can access the consultation form here.

Even a brief search on the internet reveals a whole host of articles on the concept of happiness as an indicator and the importance of happiness as a measurement for a nation. One of the most striking pieces of research has been carried out by a researcher at the University of Sheffield who works towards building on the efforts of the Worldmapper project. In his blog, Benjamin Hennig displays a very different map of the world: by happiness (or unhappiness, depending how you want to view things).

The map above uses the Happy planet Index and population. The Happy Planet Index is:

”an innovative measure that shows the ecological efficiency with which human well-being is delivered around the world. It is the first ever index to combine environmental impact with well-being to measure the environmental efficiency with which country by country, people live long and happy lives. The second compilation of the global HPI, published in July 2009, shows that we are still far from achieving sustainable well-being and puts forward a vision of what we need to do to get there.The Index doesn’t reveal the ‘happiest’ country in the world. It shows the relative efficiency with which nations convert the planet’s natural resources into long and happy lives for their citizens. The nations that top the index aren’t the happiest places in the world, but the nations that score well show that achieving, long, happy lives without over-stretching the planet’s resources is possible.”Happy Planet index website

If we compare this with a map which displays a countries GDP a very different picture is displayed. The map below maps GDP (Gross Domestic Product) in 2002. It is important to bear in mind there will have been some substantial changes to income in the past ten years, but this just gives a general idea of the global pattern.

Comparing these two maps it seems clear that wealth does not necessarily equal happiness (and happiness as mentioned above does not necessarily mean the happiness of people, but the ability of the country to be sustainable enough to provide for long and happy lives).

The map was created by the Worldmapper team who have created a whole host of world maps, where territories are shown according to different indicators, ranging from measures of wealth to greenhouse gas emissions. Their website contains a wealth of information about the world we live in and provides a huge variety of different perspectives on global patterns.

One thing is clear, this notion of ‘happiness’ has crept in the political sphere and it is likely that we to hear much more about it in the future. I think the main idea is: ‘don’t worry, be happy’.

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