In a gloomy budget, happiness is the order of the day
Published 08/12/2010 | 05:00
HOW happy are you? The boffins in the Central Statistics Office will soon be telling you the answer.
Like several other governments around the world, our own revealed yesterday that it wants the CSO to devise some method to measure quality of life -- or wellbeing to use the jargon.
And the statisticians down in Cork are already working on it.
"The Government has committed to the introduction of a new national performance indicator to allow a variety of quality-of-life measurements to be assessed and reported on a regular basis," Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said in his Budget speech.
"Our attractiveness as a country in which to live is an important part of our overall competitiveness."
It may sound crazy but the idea has many supporters overseas. Britain's David Cameron announced plans last month to spend £2m (€2.3m) to measure happiness while French President Nicolas Sarkozy said last year that he wanted to include happiness and wellbeing in the measurement of economic progress.
He was responding to recommendations made by Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen who have called on world leaders to move away from measuring gross domestic product to wellbeing and sustainability.
The small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has been measuring happiness since 1972, when King Jigme Singye Wangchuck put gross national happiness ahead of gross domestic product when it came to determining his subjects' welfare.
Mr Lenihan was vague about the details of the new happiness or wellbeing index but he did disclose that the guide would be used to shape policy and "assess the progress being made across a range of indicators".
There are already several happiness indices but the results are often contradictory.
The Happy Planet index, for example, rates Ireland at number 78 -- just one notch above Iraq.
European Union surveys regularly place Ireland much higher up the scale, despite our problems.
A new index could give a voice to the millions of citizens who do not spend their weekends at TDs' clinics or write letters to government departments.
It could offer politicians a method of understanding people's real needs and desires.
It is a political given, for example, that we all want more healthcare spending. Surveys asking people what they really want might reveal that we actually want swimming pools and other public spending that promotes good health rather than mends people.
Research could eventually tell the Government what are the greatest influences on our wellbeing and highlight areas to improve upon or maintain. It might even tell us whether people are happier in Carlow or Cork -- influencing where people live and work.