OPINION15 November 2010

Something to smile about

It’s been a rough few weeks for social researchers in the aftermath of the Spending Review and as the reality of austerity sinks in. But here’s something to smile about: Prime Minister David Cameron wants to commission a new ongoing survey of how happy people are.

The Guardian had the scoop on this, reporting yesterday how the government is set to ask national statistician Jil Matheson to devise questions for gauging “general wellbeing” – a measure Cameron first spoke of on becoming Conservative Party leader in 2005.

As reported by the BBC, he 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.”

France and Canada are considering their own measures of quality of life, but credit for the idea goes to the former King of Bhutan, who coined the term Gross National Happiness (GNH) in 1972.

Details of how the UK will measure GNH or its equivalent will have to wait until after Matheson receives the official request from Downing Street on 25 November.

There’s talk of having the questions ready to add to the Office of National Statistics’ existing General Household Survey as early as spring – though some in government are said to be questioning the wisdom of measuring happiness amid major cuts to public spending, services and benefits.