Measuring smiles? How sad

Time to stop this political obesession with the public’s happiness.

Patrick Hayes

Topics Politics

Did you know that the British are now apparently getting happier? Well, according to the smile scientists at the Office of National Statistics (ONS), this is indeed the case: we’re now a nation of smiley happy people. Cue media speculation about how big one-off events like the London Olympics or the Diamond Jubilee have raised our collective spirits despite all the economic doom and gloom.

A quick look at the happy data paints a rather different picture. In fact, average life satisfaction is growing even slower than the sclerotic economy, increasing by a mere 0.04 percentage points over the past year. Even the increase in the number of people labelling their satisfaction in the headline-grabbing category of ‘seven to 10’ only grew by 1.1 percentage points. Reporters really had to scrape the ONS barrel to find anything of significance in these figures.

The release of the stats was welcomed by the Cabinet Office, however: ‘Finding out what will really improve lives and acting on it is important and having evidence will help us to find the best ways of doing so.’ How exactly 165,000 people rating how satisfied they are on a nonsense scale of one to 10 provides such evidence is unclear?

More importantly, as has been argued on spiked, why have politicians taken it upon themselves to play the role of philosopher kings? Who made prime minister David Cameron an expert on what makes us happy?

This desperate obsession with taking the emotional pulse of the nation to find out how people’s lives can be improved speaks to a serious disconnect between politicians and the public. It also testifies to a serious shortage of ideas about how to take the country forward.

So, how about this for an alternative indicator: the more the government obsesses about our happiness, the more dissatisfied with the government we should all become.

Patrick Hayes is a columnist at spiked.

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Topics Politics


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