Measuring happiness to achieve happiness

Measuring happiness to achieve happiness

A happiness story from Positive Psychology News Daily

What Gets Measured Gets Managed

Posted: 25 Aug 2007 06:00 AM CDT

By Rosie Milner

Rosie Milner is a MAPP student at the University of East London. A Cambridge University philosophy graduate, Rosie has worked as a policy advisor on a range of social and economic policies, both for the British Government and in the NGO sector. Rosie’s bio. Rosie writes on the 25th of each month, and her past articles are here.

Governments have tried to increase their citizens” well-being since time immemorial. But when it comes to assessing how they”re doing, they have generally stuck to objective measures such as GDP, as famously criticized by Lord Layard. This changed earlier this summer, when the British Government became the first in the West to track its citizens” subjective well-being.

The UK Government has published data on well-being in Britain, which will now be measured annually, along with economic, environmental and social indices. This commitment to monitor well-being fulfills a recommendation from a large number of prominent positive psychologists [i].

The research confirms earlier findings [ii] that British people are fairly happy: average life satisfaction was 7.3 out of 10. But happiness was not equally distributed. Those in lower socio-economic groups were less satisfied with almost every aspect of their lives. As the chart of the left shows, they also experienced less general well-being and more depression and loneliness than other groups. The results give even greater urgency to the UK Government’s efforts to reduce inequality.

The landmark decision to track well-being follows political pressure from the leader of the main opposition party on the importance of well-being and public concern following a UNICEF report which placed the UK at the bottom of a league for child well-being.

The British Government is increasingly interested in evidence on the causes of well-being and successful positive interventions, and is supporting a UK community intervention based on the Penn Resiliency Program. Well-being findings are not yet integrated into policy-making in the UK, but the commitment to measure well-being is a very necessary and welcome first step towards this end.


[i] Diener, E. (2006). Guidelines for national indicators of subjective well-being and ill-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 397-404.

[ii] Diener, E. & Suh, E.M. (2003). National differences in subjective well-being. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology (pp. 435-450). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.