Get Happy! UK government to measure well-being

LONDON—Cheer up Britain! The weather isn’t that bad.

British officials said Monday they will start measuring national well-being in addition to gauging more traditional data like income levels and fear of crime.

The new plan is part of an attempt to measure national happiness levels that had been proposed by Prime Minister David Cameron during the general election campaign earlier this year.

It is part of a “science of happiness” movement that has taken root in several other countries, including France and Canada, as officials and academics study the failure of rising living standards in recent decades to be accompanied by a similar rise in personal contentment.

National Statistician Jil Matheson said she is “pleased to be taking forward work on the measurement of national well-being” as part of the move beyond surveys based only on numerical economic data.

“There is growing international recognition that to measure national well-being and progress there is a need to develop a more comprehensive view, rather than focusing solely on gross domestic product,” she said.

Downing Street said Monday that an announcement on the timing of the national survey can be expected soon. The questions are expected to be formulated by Matheson in the coming weeks for inclusion in a planned national survey to be held early next year.

Richard Layard, an emeritus professor at the London School of Economics who has contributed to government studies on the best ways to measure subjective well-being, said the new government approach is a big step forward.

“I think it’s wonderful,” he said. “It’s something I and others have been advocating for some time. It’s based on the idea that unless you measure the right things, you won’t do the right things.”

He said government surveys that focus only on economic advancement leads people to be obsessed with their income rather than other factors that can lead to happy, productive lives.

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