Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Pursuit of Happiness

“Your search for happiness produced no results”. That’s the somewhat depressing message you get if you type ‘happiness’ into the search function of the UK Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) website.

Thankfully the ONS’s own search to identify what makes Britons happy is bearing more fruit. The department recently released the initial results of its public consultation process to identify what its new index of national wellbeing (which I first wrote about last year) should measure.

Topping the list of indicators that people think are most important are:
  • job security
  • personal health, and
  • relationships with family members.
Other key themes identified by people taking part included:
  • their children’s future – people are more interested in their children having a better life and a nice place to live
  • freedom of society
  • spiritual and religious beliefs.
All of these are a refreshing change from the focus on GDP, pay levels and other economic indicators that have been a proxy for measuring what is important in a society and measuring progress.

The ONS will continue to consult with people on what makes them happy until April, before developing its new measures to track Britain’s wellbeing. While plumbing the deep causes of our happiness is important, there’s just one question I’d like to add to future surveys to make sure we’re getting a true snapshot of the moment rather than something over-thought: Are you happy today?

Think about this as it’s a real “Age of Now” question. Psychologists have found that people are distracted from the task at hand nearly half the time, and this daydreaming consistently makes them less happy. The lesson: get focused on the present.