NEWS30 August 2013

Happiness is overrated, says Competitive Enterprise Institute

Government North America UK

US — Using happiness surveys for political purposes is flawed, according to a study from the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a libertarian thinktank 

The CEI accuses happiness indices of using vague and unscientific questions, such as ‘Taken altogether, how would you say that things are these days?’, to produce their findings. 

In addition, happiness surveys use ceilings which make it “methodologically impossible” for respondents to increase their score. 

The CEI said: “Even if happiness increases after someone reports being ‘very happy,’ there’s no way for the survey to reflect that increase. But, clearly, a person can go from being ‘very happy’ to ‘even happier than before’.”

Finally, the study criticised conclusions made from arbitrary and incomplete data sets that devise international happiness rankings, such as the New Economics Foundation’s Happy Planet Index and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Better Life Index. 

“The OECD claims that it has identified 11 ‘dimensions as being essential to well-being’, each of which is comprised of one to four criteria, for a total of 24 different metrics. However, some of the criteria are clearly subjective, arbitrary, and not internally consistent,” notes the CEI.

The full report is online here.

Happiness surveys have, in recent years, been put forward as an alternative measure to Gross Domestic Product – focusing on quality of life rather than economic prosperity.

In the UK, the Office for National Statistics is collecting and publishing data on the public’s ‘wellbeing’ following a request from Prime Minister David Cameron.

The CEI is not the first to raise concerns about the appropriateness of measuring happiness. American psychologist Martin Seligman said in a 2011 interview: “What humans want is not just happiness. They want justice, they want meaning. An interesting example is that there is quite a bit of evidence that says people’s mood isn’t as good once they have children. If [happiness] were all people were interested in, we should have been extinguished a long time ago.”