23 Jul Can happiness be measured?
For those of you interested in the ongoing issue of measuring happiness, this article from teh Guardian makes for some fascinating reading…
Economist Richard Layard is a champion of the government's new national wellbeing index. Philosopher Julian Baggini thinks the attempt to measure happiness is totalitarian. With the first set of results out next week, Susanna Rustin meets them.
Richard Layard: I expect the data to show huge variations in happiness and that is the point of doing this – to see who is miserable and who is happy, and then to see if policies are making any difference.
Julian Baggini: One thing I'm sure we agree on is that gross domestic product (GDP) is not the be-all and end-all, although I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who claimed it was. But I'm suspicious of a national wellbeing index. It's not just that wellbeing isn't rocket science. It isn't science at all! Wellbeing is a notion that entails our values about the good life, and questions of values are not ultimately scientific questions.
RL: My belief is that the best state of society is the one where there is the most happiness and the least misery. And if we think happiness is what policymakers should aim for, it is critical to measure it. If you go back 30 or 40 years, people said you couldn't measure depression. But eventually the measurement of depression became uncontroversial. I think the same will happen with happiness. We're at an early stage, but I don't see how you can argue this isn't a scientific project.
JB: You agree there has to be a philosophical basis and say this is a form of utilitarianism, but it's not straightforwardly the case that what people want to maximise above all else is happiness. It's complicated to know what's best for people, and if we can't specify the things that constitute wellbeing, then measuring it will be misleading, no matter how well you do it.
RL: Feeling good or bad is a dimension of our experience of life from minute to minute that most of us can recognise. It's very interesting that when these questions are asked on questionnaires they get the highest response rate of almost any question.
Susanna Rustin: Are you glad the subject is being opened up for discussion?
…keep reading the full and original interview HERE