It's a question of happiness (Part 1)
Just before Christmas 2010, the new government in the UK were promoting their ideas about how to find a more efficient way of measuring the population's happiness. Here's something that David Cameron said that interested us:
“Wellbeing can’t be measured by money or traded in markets. It’s about the beauty of our surroundings, the quality of our culture and, above all, the strength of our relationships. Improving our society’s sense of wellbeing is, I believe, the central political challenge of our times.”
Oh dear. When a politician starts to ponder philosophically about something, it might be a good idea to take precautions...
Isn’t he really speaking about ‘happiness’? Why then substitute this word with ‘wellbeing’? And why speak of General Well Being (GWB) as a measurable index that defines our quality of life and so turn it into a political concept.
Well, he doesn’t have to. Happiness has always been a political issue, if by ‘politics’ we mean how we organise the relationships between individual people in a group so that the power of each strengthens or enhances the power of the whole.
Where does the idea of wellbeing leave happiness? Is happiness less desirable now that we have a new ‘political challenge of our times’?
We would argue a resolute NO.
We can let the politicans do what they like with their GWB which will have the following positive effects on the idea of happiness:
- It takes happiness out of both the market place and the political arena - we don’t have to think of being happy as involving some sort of ‘economic transaction’ that gives us a kind of political status in society.
- It maintains the idea that happiness is not a measurable quantity – you might well be able to devise a GWB index, but never a GH index.
- It will open a space in which to reclaim the importance of being happy in our emotional lives.
The worry is that by re-defining the focus, the Government is trying to shape our knowledge and understanding of what it means to be happy according to their terms, which might not always be in our best interests. It can lead to manipulating people’s behaviour, coercing them to behave in line with their interests and why? History tells us that it is usually in order to keep power.
So keep a detached eye on their happiness tampering in the near future...