THE NEWSDESK: What's the point in this pursuit of happiness?
12:56pm Sunday 27th October 2013 in News
HAPPINESS, or the lack of it. Turns out areas of Gwent - Newport and Caerphilly county boroughs both came at the bottom of the Welsh happiness league last week.
According to research by the Office for National Statistics, people in Newport and Caerphilly were the bottom two for scoring themselves happy with their lives.
And Blaenau Gwent came bottom of the league for people considering their lives worthwhile.
Depressing stuff. Makes you less happy just reading about it, doesn't it?
The first problem with measuring happiness is, of course, that it's all about perception rather than cold, hard facts.
What makes me happy will not necessarily make you happy.
And what is 'happy'? Is it a general feeling of contentment, or do some of the people who answered the ONS survey expect to be in an ecstatic state on a daily basis?
Did the ONS catch the people of Newport on a wet, miserable day in January when all the post-Christmas bills had hit?
It's difficult to tell. Happiness is, by its nature, fleeting. No one is happy all of the time.
And, as Abraham Lincoln said: "People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be."
The ONS would no doubt prefer the subject be referred to as well-being. That, however, is no less woolly a concept.
And Albert Camus has a warning for those ONS researchers and touchy-feely governments: "You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life."
The second problem with happiness surveys is that they simply do not tell us anything we do not already know.
The ONS says health, unemployment and relationship status are most important when it comes to measuring well-being.
People in the latest annual population survey who reported very bad health had much lower ratings of life satisfaction, feelings that things were worthwhile, levels of happiness and higher ratings of anxiety on average than those who said their health was good.
Unemployed people had lower ratings of life satisfaction, feelings that things were worthwhile, than employed people, and people who were married or in a civil partnership had higher levels of life satisfaction than singles.
Lesser factors included how much someone earns, whether he or she is fulfilled in a job and how much choice in life someone has.
Can any of us really say any of that is a surprise?
So an expensive study has been commissioned to confirm exactly what we knew in the first place.
The third problem - the survey does nothing to change anything. It shows mere perception statistics, and is not a report which offers any way forward in improving happiness or well-being or whatever else you want to call it.
And here's something else which is making me much less happy.
It is done at substantial cost to the public purse while public services which actually improve people's lives are slashed all around us.
While government-commissioned researchers and statisticians are interviewing and crunching numbers, libraries are closing, leisure centres are being hived off into trusts, support for the arts is being slashed, public sector jobs are under threat and many of us are struggling to pay our fuel bills.
People who are unhappy because they are ill - especially those with mental illness - are facing lengthy waits for treatment as NHS budgets are squeezed.
This isn't just making me less happy, it's making me positively angry.
If parts of Gwent are feeling unhappy, maybe they have very good reason.
Keep your happiness surveys and laughter workshops.
Here's my thought about how governments could make people more happy - create jobs, create growth, help people take care of their health before they lose it, fund public services properly, help people ensure they have enough money to have choices in life.
And, here's what's even better: my thought isn't going to cost the public purse a penny.
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