Whatever happened to happiness?

There is the long fabled story of the King of Bhutan declaring that all decisions he, and his government, made would be in the interests of the happiness of the people. Instead of Gross Domestic Product as a measurement he decreed they had to base all their decisions on Gross Domestic Wellbeing or a Happiness Indicator.

This decision making once came to the fore when the first set of traffic lights were introduced to the streets of the capital, Thimpu. The people were outraged. They felt it was impersonal, rude and unnecessary. The government felt that it was affecting the happiness of residents and promptly reinstated the men in white gloves who, to this day, still guide the traffic on the busiest street in the mountain kingdom.

Back in 2010, David Cameron, as newly installed Prime Minister, introduced a Happiness Indicator for Britain. At a an initial cost of £2million and run by the Office for National Statistics, the plan was to collect data and see whether people were getting happier with life and whether plans or policies were improving or worsening life.

Amidst all that has been going on in the world, the latest findings have been missed. The overall summary is as follows:

“there has been no improvement in ratings of happiness, anxiety and feeling that things in life are worthwhile over the 1 year period between the years ending March 2015 and 2016.”

So, despite everything that went on in that period of time in life, the universe and everything, people felt exactly the same as before.So is this good or bad?

Well, the stats make grim reading:

That is a lot of people who are deeply unhappy with themselves, their lives and the society they live in.

Despite these statistics and these findings, there has not been a single change in policy to make anyone happier. What is hard to understand when viewed through this prism is why our politicians do not talk more about making people happier instead of richer or safer? And why doesn’t the public demand it?

Sure, money doesn’t buy you happiness but having little money does buy you sadness. Many things outside of government control will affect what a person feels about their life but it must have some effect. For if it doesn’t then what is the point of having a government at all?

The sad thing is that no major politician or political party, aside from the Green Party (and they don’t really count) tries to see the world in a different light from simply delivering ever greater growth, managing the excesses of abusive capitalism and making people richer. Yet, time and again in country after country, we have seen that this approach simply makes people less happy, more insecure and more likely to reach for the pills, the bottle or the needle.

If a government or a party could actually base their ideology on delivering policies that would make people,across the country, genuinely happier then there would be a seismic shift in the way people would start creating and implementing policies across a whole swathe of foreign and domestic issues. Would we renew nuclear weapons? Would we invade other countries? Would we allow advertising? Would we allow people to get fat? Would we change the way we look after the 500,000 vulnerable older people who are coming to the end of their lives? Would we treat abused children better? Maybe, maybe not – but it does alter the angle at which the debate and focus comes from.

Yet instead, we will hear the same old same old from tired, ideology vacuous politicians who are bereft of drive, ambition or leadership when it comes to delivering a better off Britain in a post EU age. They will cling to the same old tired meaningless stock phrases and ideals that have brought so many people to end of their tether.

We only have one life, so why aren’t the politicians clambering for policies to make us all have a happy one?  Surely when Britain needs to try something new, this could be the perfect medicine and antidote to the travails the country now faces and could provide an opportunity to make Britain a better place. Will it happen – no. But I can dream a happy dream of a Britain like Bhutan.


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