February 24, 2011 / 2:05 PM / 9 years ago

Britain starts measuring national happiness

LONDON (Reuters) - Britons will have an official happiness measure from next year.

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) will soon begin asking new questions in its regular household survey to establish how satisfied people are with their lives — the latest step in an international move towards assessing national well-being using data outside traditional economic measures.

Governments hope that understanding the drivers of happiness and well-being will help mould policy.

“At the moment there’s a fairly high level aspiration that policy should be based on more than just economic measures,” said Paul Allin, ONS Programme Director.

From April, the Office of National Statistics will ask 200,000 people in a series of surveys to say on a scale of 0-10:

- How satisfied are you with your life nowadays?

- How happy did you feel yesterday?

- How anxious did you feel yesterday?

- To what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?

The first estimates, based on the data it receives, are planned in mid-2012.

In addition, the ONS plans to ask broader questions that dig down into the drivers of individuals’ happiness in its opinions survey.

These have yet to be finalised but will be based on findings from a “national debate” the ONS is undertaking online and at roadshows around the country, Allin said.

With a rising cost of living and public spending cuts, a government drive to measure well-being may seem counter-intuitive, but surveys suggest there is little correlation between national wealth and how content people are with their lot.

Other countries are devising similar measurements. French President Nicolas Sarkozy asked Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, a former White House adviser and World Bank chief economist, and a group of international experts to find new ways to measure economic progress taking into account social well-being.

Stiglitz's report was critical of the way GDP, a raw measure of economic activity, was being used to gauge society's well-being. An increase in fuel consumption, it noted, would boost growth figures even if it merely reflected more traffic jams and pollution. For the ONS project, click www.ons.gov.uk/well-being

Reporting by Jodie Ginsberg; editing by Stephen Nisbet

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