TED Conversations

Nic Marks

Director, Happiness Works

TEDCRED 100+

This conversation is closed.

Should Governments start to measure what really matters to people - their happiness? Or should they stay out of such a private matter?

David Cameron, UK prime minister, has recently announced that the UK will create a new indicator of National Well-being. He said as much in his TED talk last year and now he is walking his TED talk! This is something we have argued for at new economics foundation for some time - and I also lay out my thoughts in my recent TED book - The Happiness Manifesto. But are we right? Is this a valid aim of government? Or should government just simply stay out of such a private realm? Indeed can government stay out of this realm? Fo example unemployment makes people unhappy but does inflation? Should a government therefore concentrate more on security of jobs than controlling the money supply? What about education - should kids be educated to fulfil labour market requirements or to lead fulfilling lives? So many areas that Governments touch our lives - the economy, the financial markets, health services, schools, local engagement and the built environment. How could they be different - nay better?
DISCUSS ... I would love to know TEDsters views!

Share:
  • thumb
    Feb 16 2011: Stay out of it! If the government decides to start measuring our level of happiness, the following will almost certainly happen, based on past history. None of these is good:
    1) The government will spend more taxpayer (or borrowed) money to build the "Happiness Assessment and Reporting Department." This department will balloon to 12,000 federal employees within ten years.
    2) Politicians will manipulate the regulations governing the specific components whose measurements go into the Happiness Index, so they can get the results they want. Primarily, the party in power will want to change the law so the Happiness Index will go up, and those out of party will try to manipulate it to make it go down.
    3) Government will never be satisfied with just MEASURING happiness. They will feel compelled to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, which (A) is not a proper function of government, (B) will undoubtedly backfire and have unintended negative consequences, and (C) will cost money to implement.

    Let's just go back to having the government protect our basic rights, defend the borders, establish a currency, and operate the courts. We can do everything else better as private citizens.
    • thumb
      Feb 16 2011: OK, but what if we combine happiness index with increased direct democratic participation? Then there will be not so much power left for the government to exploit it for its own needs.
    • thumb
      Feb 17 2011: I understand you well-presented argument, but I do see a measurement of General Well-Being as symbolic of an important change from government caring more about money, to more about it's citizens, whose job to represent is indeed the foremost purpose of government.

      Whether that symbolic change with translate into something practical improvement to civilian's lives, and whether that is government's responsibility, is up for debate. The idea that politicians would manipulate the figures to reflect their record better is very believable and implies the need for it to be run 'quango' style.

      Though to be honest I would be more worried about self-identified plutocrats wanting the figures to be manipulated out of fear what would be found.
  • thumb
    Feb 19 2011: I don't like the sound of it. Wellbeing and prosperity involve more than just feeling happy. In other words, though it may not sound nice, there are more important things than being happy. Anyone who's read Aldous Huxley's Brave New World will understand the dangers of a society that places comfort and happiness as its highest priority.
    • Feb 19 2011: i think i agree with you there, and i'd add it's that often pursuing goals other than happiness that is what ultimately brings happiness about.
    • thumb
      Feb 23 2011: What Nic meant was well-being, more than happiness.

      I agree that physical comfort is probably highly overrated, to say the least, as a factor contributing to well-being. From what I have observed, it's the other way around: the less pampered people's lives are in the physical sense (while having their basic needs met) the less burdened they are, and thus better off.

      @Ben Explicitly going after it may indeed lead to hedonism and false choices, whereas a life devoted to something outide of you, brings you happiness as a side effect.
      Chip Conley mentioned in his talk that the Bhutanese Prime Minister said that their goal was also not to generate happiness, but to "create the conditions for happiness to occur".
      This seems like the right approach on a macro-scale, and I assume that likewise, individuals create these conditions by focussing their energies outside themselves with good intention.
  • thumb
    Feb 19 2011: I think that this is a critical topic and that we have to both change what we measure in quantitative metrics (ie we need to be measuring our natural resources as an asset that is currently being depleted, recognizing that it underpins our traditional wealth and our happiness), and that we need to fit in qualitative aspects - measure not just the size of growth, including natural resources, but also measure the quality of that growth. Joe Stiglitz and the Sarkozy Commission on the metrics piece of this have done important work here (will be interesting to see if this can be central to the G20 agenda); and on qualitative assessments, that is where Bhutan and their GNH (Gross National Happiness) discussed below is an example, a potential model, to consider and from which to learn. They feel they have compromised with lower per capita income, but that they have high other, perhaps even more accurate, happiness indicators (psychological) and related high values such as amount of forest cover, natural system protection. I believe we need to change what we are measuring and how both in governments, and in corporations, in order to better direct financial flows, investments, to value and grow what matters more for what may be more true to why we are here, for happiness. Even for love. Naive? I think an imperative for avoiding a very chaotic, dangerous, and unhappy future.
  • thumb
    Feb 16 2011: Nic, I think its dangerous for government to try to get anymore involved in our lives in anyway. Unfortunately in this age of austerity there will be an increasing amount of public sector bodies concentrating on "managing the credit" for whatever they can. Monitoring our collective progress up and down the happiness index will doubtless occupy the time of an army of public sector workers?

    Government should concentrate on creating the conditions in which things can happen and we in turn should measure them on their performance in this area; i.e. stop spending money on phrases and concentrate on building and repairing infrastructure. No potholes and no platitudes = happy populace.
  • thumb
    Feb 17 2011: I think there's a big problem with the word "happiness" - We may have good statistical evidence to measure "well-being" where "happiness" is a very debatable term. It reminds me of the start of the discussions of "global warming" which was a frame for the discussion where "climate chaos" would have been more accurate and less confusing to people.

    Happiness is a mood that comes and goes depending on what one is doing. It's not possible to lock it in. It is a by product of an activity which you are deeply engaged it.

    Contentment may not be such a good thing...where else does the impulse to improve the world come form but discontent.

    Well-being however allows one to engage productively in the world....and states have an interest in developing the wide basis for well being for the populace.
    • Feb 17 2011: The thought of the state promulgating rules based on its determination of what promotes well being is just as frightening to me as rules promulgated to promote happiness. I'd prefer that the state limit its role in the personal lives of its citizens to the greatest degree reasonably possible. But, everyone's entitled to their own opinion, unless of course that opinion is destructive to the well being of the populace ;-)
      • thumb
        Feb 24 2011: Think of it as a deepening respect for metrics and a focus on the information they give you about well being. I have to perform on the job and so does the state.
        -infant mortality
        -number of men over 80 without dimentia
        -number of volunteer projects
        -number of people who play music as a hobby (whatever...)

        ( I am sleepy and admittedly this is a list of the top of my head)

        The only role for the state here is transparently measuring success and failure year after year on metrics that citizens AGREE on...

        Many nations are moving in this direction as a matter of transparency not as a matter of determining choices for citizens but as a representation of the veracity of their policy and ideological claims. That I can't imagine any rational person objecting to...
  • thumb
    Feb 16 2011: Often the things that are supposed to make us happy, don't work. A perfect plan-economy and nanny-state would provide everybody with everything they need and distribute it evenly so no-one would want for anything. But we probably wouldn't be happy. To be happy, we need some control over our own lives, choices, risks, and failures. There has to be something to aspire to, something to grow beyond etc.

    Good government should aspire to have happy people, and I think it's admirable of Cameron to realise this. But different things make different people happy, so what is most important is to allow as much freedom and opportunity as possible, and to give people access to the tools to make their aspirations happen. I would say that those tools are mostly made available through education.
    • thumb
      Feb 17 2011: I think the government should do everything it can to promote the public welfare ...

      .... but no more.

      We need to measure it's ability to do so and stop it when it exceeds that ability.
  • thumb
    Feb 16 2011: This is something I've recently had a change of mind. Not quite change as much as blurring of mind.
    No doubt that happiness is an important experience to have in life. But the more I thought about happiness as Guiding Principle the more it seems trivial.
    I take the example of my country, Brasil. What if we took happiness as the most important measure of the economy. Well, certainly the government would start shifting (or increasing) investments into Carnaval, soccer matches, subsidizing prostitutes, beer and caipirinhas. The happiness index would skyrocket, and most of the people would indeed be more happy, but is that what we should be striving for?

    As I said before, I have no current stance on this and as much as I agree that individual human well-being should be at the forefront of collective decision making, happiness strikes me as a very superfluous value. Not only that, but most of the things that we decided to be a part of our lives, because they makes us happy, were started by events that brought us "poor-being", discomfort or even physical and psychological pain. How could you tell if certain occurrences of "poor-being" won't turn into major well-being factors in the near of far future?

    I remember the dread of learning some things in high-school that caused anger (not well being), but I'm very glad I did, cause it gave me the basis to love learning now. Similarly we could imagine that going to the dentist and fixing your cavities will bring you a lot of suffering, pain and discomfort. But the good that comes from that is, most of the time, worth the suffering. Emotional development works the same, it may be awful to go through some things growing up, like love break ups, friend betrayal or death of close ones, but all these "bad" emotional experiences make us grow and eventually (more often than not I hope) learn to be more balanced and have long standing well-being.

    Perhaps happiness and well-being can't be achieved without suffering.
    • thumb
      Feb 16 2011: But this problem is no different than the problems that politicians face with determining the economic guidelines and policies. If it was left for the society to decide, surely everyone would increase their wages, unemployment benefits, make education, healthcare free, etc. It's the task of politicians and policy-makers to foresee possible future implications of such actions and choose the ones that will serve people the best in the long-term. Quite similar principle can be applied to happiness.
    • Feb 16 2011: I think the definition of happiness is at question here. In Bhutan, where this concept seems to have originated, the predominant religion is Buddhism and I believe they would see happiness as something closer to "contentedness" or "satisfaction with life" than the temporary pleasure of soccer matches. That "satisfaction" comes from everything in our experience and suffering is a part of understanding that experience.

      The types of choices the government has to make wouldn't change - only the measure of success. Gross National Happiness as opposed to Gross National Product.
    • thumb
      Feb 17 2011: Agreed. Replace "happiness" => "well-being"
      • thumb
        Feb 17 2011: Agree. "Well-being" seems easier to define than "happiness":>)
  • Feb 16 2011: Government should stay out of our personal matters, completely. Enforce contracts, private property, provide for the common defense, period.
    • thumb
      Feb 16 2011: Yeah, the best government is invisible government, truly. But be realistic: most people are no more able to conduct a good, happy life by themselves due to external pressure. Mass media, consumerist values etc. are affecting us so much that if people are left exposed to all this, in the meantime they will be dumbed-down completely. Indeed, the popular culture is becoming more and more immense and penetrating, and few people are able to stand completely against this. That's our endorsed capitalism and libertarianism :)

      New index of happiness might be able to partially prevent this or even reverse - it would account for these "non-governmental" factors and thus provide strong, substantial grounds for limiting negative media's effect on people's lives.
    • Feb 16 2011: Why not more?
    • thumb
      Feb 17 2011: Survival of the fittest you say?
  • Feb 17 2011: I believe the important thing in Cameron's statement is what he is choosing to measure, Happiness in addition to other indicators of progress and health. The Calvert/Henerson indicators project seeks to measure quality of life. http://www.calvert-henderson.com/ From these kinds of things, one can start to judge whether governments (at all levels) are creating the conditions that allow for the pursuit of happiness, not whether governments can make us happy. Two different jobs. I prefer they get the former right.
    • thumb
      Feb 24 2011: Well said...and yes...it strikes me as very strange that it's controversial...at all.That said - taking a quick look at that-- and their definition of "waste" they have what seems to be a really outdated (1970s) view on what waste is and how to handle it....So that puts me in with folks that let out a big heavy sigh when people place too much faith in the wrong institutions...government or otherwise...
  • thumb
    Feb 16 2011: Great to get home from work and see so many comments! I think those TEDsters talking about Governments not being able to directly make us happy are right. However governments are one of the major influencers of the conditions for happiness (others include businesses, institutions and culture). By happiness I actually mean our broader well-being - how we feel and also crucially how we are doing. Today we launched a new report laying out how we think well-being and progress can be measured - the report is part of our contribution to the current debate in the UK. The report is freely available here for those interested:
    http://www.neweconomics.org/publications/measuring-our-progress
    Later today I was in a meeting in the UK Houses of Parliment - an all party committee on measuring well-being. A prominent member of the UK government talked very openly about how politics all over the world had become very dry and was afraid of people's emotional lives. He was almost lamenting about how nearly all of us read novels, are moved by aesthetics and have strong emotional relationships - but somehow this is not valid for politics. Why? How have we let the political realm become so seperate from people's actual lived experience?
  • thumb
    Feb 16 2011: governments fail at providing wealth, so they shifted the goalpost. but it won't take long before they fail at the new task as well. governments are just as unable to create happiness. except it will be less obvious, as measuring happiness is even more problematic than measuring wealth. much more problematic. one could call it impossible.
  • thumb
    Feb 16 2011: Of course they should. Look at Egypt, had there been a proper two way communication channel, and had the issues of the everyday citizen been addressed, the situation would have been different. Similarly, for any nation to develop properly and fully there must be 100% transparency. It is the key to a civil-democratic society.

    Innovative technologies must be put to use for this. Probably, developing social media channels for easy public accessibility and understanding, outreach programs and events that engage communities, local redressal programs, etc.
  • thumb
    Feb 23 2011: I was looking at a news feed yesterday which was about Texas voting on permitting handguns on university campuses.
    There was an accompanying advertisement with a picture of a battlefield with one soldier applying a white patch and the slogan "Stop severe bleeding fast - saves lives" (sorry, I'm not going to give them another ad).
    Gross Domestic Product would be improved by the gun sale, the ammo, and the anti-coagulant. Even "better" would be if the anti-coagulant didn't work and a funeral was necessary. Surely we can devise a measure which better reflects how well a nation is doing than the GDP. And as others have pointed out in this thread, the U.S. constitution guarantees "pursuit of happiness" so how do we know how well they are doing in enabling this if there is no measure of success? I know it was pointed out that it is only the right to engage in the pursuit, not the achievement, but we can leave it to the citizen to do the pursuing and take the average achievement as being a proxy measure for the success of enabling of the pursuit which is the government's constitutionally required job. It would certainly be a better measure than GDP.
  • thumb
    Feb 21 2011: After reading this TED conversation, I presented this concept to my Economics professor and he approved it as a topic for a research paper. His favorite Economist is Joseph Stiglitz which I saw mentioned above. I'm very intrigued by the ideas shared here, and it has compelled me to learn more. If you have a moment, please recommend any pertinent articles, books, source material, etc. There appears to be some very good source material within the thread already so no need to repeat anything already mentioned. Thank you for the inspiration!
  • Feb 18 2011: Yep...sorry...I'm one of "those" people...I wrote such a long post I had to divide it into three parts...here is the final thought:

    If a government were to decide to measure the true well-being of its citizens then one would need to ask the following questions: What is the driving force behind the measurement? For what purpose? Is it being measured with sincerity? What is the practical application of the information? What are the benefits of measuring happiness? If it’s purely political motivation as a talking point, well then, it’s worthless and could potentially be harmful. But if the information were gathered to ensure the conditions for the pursuit of happiness were possible then I’m in support…send me the questionnaire (just don’t ask me where I like to be tickled).
  • Feb 18 2011: Why is the measurement of whether I’m happy a private matter? I’ve read enough Cosmopolitan and Maxim Magazine polls to know that nothing seems private or sacred when sharing intimate information about activities that make a person happy. I also find it highly unlikely the government would concern themselves with such “private” topics. Measuring GNH (Gross National Happiness), as they do in Bhutan, includes measuring health, psychological well-being, education, environment, living standards, governance, how and whether culture is being fostered and the what sense of community is with its citizens. Many governments measure these same things, but it’s how the information is interpreted, the purpose behind the measurement and the exact aspect of the field being measured that sets it apart from other countries.
    Ask yourself, would you prefer to live in a country that promotes peace and personal happiness (a happiness many of us have forgotten to recognize) or one that promotes political power and accumulation of resources?
    Bhutan seems to accomplish the task of measuring happiness quite successfully, but many westernized countries have very different cultural values. Those values are shaped by the society we are raised in. Bhutan’s goal is to pursue the simplicity of being “good human beings”. Their most important goal IS the happiness of the people, which is based on deeply spiritual motivations. The US culture, my culture, was founded on certain principles (freedom, equality and pursuit of happiness) that have morphed under motivations of personal gain and the pressure to be “The World’s Policeman”, “The World’s Banker”, “A Super-Power” and a nation of self-made multimillionaires living the “American Dream”. I think the real question to ask is “have countries adopted false ideas of happiness that ARE being measured, but prevent nations from fostering true well-being for its citizenry?” (side note…I LOVE my country warts and all).
  • Feb 18 2011: What an interesting question. I enjoyed answering it so much that I practically wrote a novel and gave several answers because the way the questions were posed left it open to a number of different interpretations.
    I read through the thread of answers and I’m surprised many did not answer it directly. I read a lot of cynicism and negativity toward government and anything pertaining to government. I read numerous comments posing the question of whether happiness can be defined, or is it even an end goal. I read questions asking how measurement is possible. Very few people however answered the question directly or even questioned the validity of the question.
    When asked “should governments start to measure what really matters to people-their happiness” I’d answer that one could argue they already do. I will use the United States as my example. The US Government measures GDP which sums up the standard of living of its citizens. Wages, profits, economic growth, employment, corporate profitability, number of new business start-ups, graduate and post graduate degrees and national test scores are all measured by the government and since US citizens (I am stereotyping here, but reasonably so) seem to value money, success, power and prestige one could argue these things are their version of happiness and they are already being measured. If this were the case, then the answer to the second question is that the citizens don’t view the matter private and in fact are even happier when their success and “happiness” is broadcast to the world.
    One could also read the first question and ask is happiness (as the author of the question is intending it) what really matters to citizens? Perhaps. Many peoples’ lives are lived miserably as a result of their own actions which never seem to change…so are they even interested in happiness?
  • thumb
    Feb 18 2011: I think governments have an extremely hard task to actually know what 'we' want. Most of us rarely know what we want ourselves. Ever-changing styles governed by people who don't really care about us, only how they can put their name out there and make some money. The generation in their 50's now are going to want something different from what the generation in their 20's will want when they hit 50.

    I think trying to keep everyone happy is a battle no-one should start. Perhaps governments should be creating a society that enables people to be flexible with their lives in a way that doesn't leave employers in shit and our economy screaming. Most people stay in crappy situations because it's just easier. Figure that one out and I think governments will be one step closer. I know a lot of people that go through cycles; They're not happy with their situation, so they change it and slowly bring themselves out of a hole. Only to find something else wrong with their new situation and do it all over again. Can we change something that may actaully be built into us as humans?
  • Feb 17 2011: I do NOT think that anyone is hoping that a government will try to "measure" our happiness. The point the Bhutan government is making is that, as it makes decisions, the criteria for those decisions is how it will affect the overall well-being of all of the population. That isn't invasive in any way - it's a government that weighs the impact of every decision against its affect on every member of their society.
  • thumb
    Feb 17 2011: At the begining of the current economic crisis there was a meeting of world leaders (The London Summit 2009) which was held under the rubric of "Growth, jobs and stability". At the time I thought - shouldn't the focus be "Sustainability, Quality of Life, Justice"?

    As long as our goal remains on maximizing GDP we're going to destroy the planet, remain in endless wars fighting over dwindling resources and work ourselves to death. Humans are capable of more.

    So yes, I think there is a need to focus on citizen well-being. And although it will be flawed (and in need of constant refinement) a way to measure it would be useful.
  • thumb
    Feb 17 2011: There are multiple issues being discussed in this thread.
    1) is happiness the ultimate personal/collective objective (my answer is yes)
    2) Should governments intervene to ensure that the ultimate collective/personal objective (be it money or happiness) is maximized- if not directly aim for making people wealthy/happy, to at least ensure the conditions for economic stability/ flourishing; emotional stability/ flourishing. ?
    Again my answer is yes, government are there to govern the relationship between individuals/ collectives ; by narrowly focusing on 'ensure that contracts are enforced' we are falling in the domain of reciprocity when talking about human relationships- a market focussed viewpoint that is based on personal self -interest and reciprocity , ensuring that contracts are honored will lead to good outcomes. However Steven pinker has been pointing out that human relationships fall at least in 3 domains - dominance, mutuality/ friendship and reciprocity. While money , centered around reciprocal relationships , is suited for 'market taking care of itself' mentality; what works in one domain dos not necessarily work in other domain. If we aim for maximizing happiness, we move into domains of mutuality/friendships where contacts between people are shown to have larger effect on happiness than contracts and we need new ways of thinking about Governments role- ensure that relationships are healthy/ intimate?
    And what role government plays and what decision it makes will vitally depend on whether happiness is end goal or economic prosperity. Suppose many call centers are being set in India and are leading to economic prosperity, but at the same time due to night shift work/ some other reason are putting people at much stress and unhappiness perhaps leading to fragmentations of relationships as measured by increasing divorce rates etc in that population - in that case govt incentives to that industry maybe inline with economic imperative but not happiness goal.
  • thumb
    Feb 17 2011: Government is our cooperative business, not a California hug-fest. As well-intentioned as David Cameron may be, he is not, nor has any politician before him, connected to the millions of British subjects. Centralised governance is always dangerous and there has never been a single flicker of escape from that system since the strongest ape became dominant.
    How to operate a widely-connected system of governing? Simple really. Everyone expresses their answer to a posed question. Exactly. I hear you all yelling “referenda”. It’s the connecting that might be difficult. I hereby claim as my intellectual property www.referenda. When 60 million Brits are signed up, David C. can pose his first question.
    Mine would be “Should we ban exporting weapons?”
    Straight to the point yet impossible to ask in any chamber of government. Why? Because, and herein lies the problem with the whole “happiness” nonsense, no one in government speaks on behalf of the nation, each and every one is beholden to someone exerting influence, even if, on the lowest level, it is his or her spouse. Realistically, it is on a level of lobbying, money and blackmail. The UK is the world’s 2nd largest exporter of weapons. How in the world can that be in the interests of the British people. It is not, thus proving that our interests do not count. The “Are you happy?” campaign is a smoke screen.
    Cameron, if you want to connect, ask us what we want or better yet, what we don’t want, tabulate the responses and make it happen. Then most of us will be happier and we can move on to the next problem irking us. See how it works, David? Think of it as “Why are you miserable?” campaign.
    brent
    • thumb
      Feb 23 2011: Very important point.
      Money politics, however, is something that can only gradually wane, not something that can be changed overnight. The other end of the spectrum would be "happiness politics". (which you seem to view rather cynically)
      There is no 1 solution for making the shift toward more happiness-oriented politics, not even embracing referenda as primary guidance tool in decision making. Referenda are of limited use, because hardly anybody is informed enough on most subjects to help guide collective policy. Having specialized representatives doing that for you is a good idea.
      The corruption corporate lobbying introduces in terms of politicians representing "the people", is something that will diminish as constituencies get organized in their own lobby groups on subjects that matter to them.
      In this respect the internet is a blessing. People are making themselves heard like never before. (Avaaz, Amnesty, var. petitions)
      A good example is the grassroots resistance against factory farming in the Netherlands at the moment. Animal rights organizations, backed by scientists, use their funds to INFORM THE LARGER PUBLIC, including those who presently still care most about cheap meat, about what factory farming actually entails these days.
      Right now, Dutch parlement has established a moratorium on newly built CAFO's until the impacts on human health, animal welfare, the environment have been properly assessed.

      People have to be properly informed first. Only then is it possible to politically leverage the expertise and drive that is present in specialized NGO's. These groups need large numbers of people backing them to be effective players.
      This is only going to get better, since it is so much easier to connect to people.
      And: this is also is changing the way corporations operate. They are more and more inclined to use NGO-knowledge in their decision-making.

      Information is the key. Once informed, focus momentum through NGO's to influence policy.
    • thumb
      Feb 24 2011: You're miserable because you're English.

      *I kid
  • Feb 16 2011: I find it difficult to begin without an expletive. Its hard for me to imagine anything much more frightening than the government attempting to measure happiness. One can only assume that the purpose of measuring it would be so that the government could then get busy helping everyone be happier. To borrow a quote, "Forbid it almighty God". That's the last thing I need.
  • thumb
    Feb 16 2011: It is as the comment above states: "So many areas that Governments touch our lives..."
    Perhaps the government doesn't have to have direct influence with this topic, but it would certainly benefit all of us if the government was aware of this information. If the government is not aware of what matters to the majority of people, the gov. cannot effectively create and direct policies/ laws to accomodate what the majority of people want...can they? If we don't have all the information, the results of our efforts are not as accurate as they might be with all appropriate information.
  • Feb 16 2011: The more government does and measures the larger the government gets and therefore the more expensive the government gets. My mother used to say to me "No one can make you happy but your self." How can we expect government to do for it's people what the people will not do for themselves? To measure over all happiness could be an interesting indicator of overall social health of a nation but government should not be responsible for individual happiness. That is why the American constitution does not give a right to happiness but rather the liberty to pursue our own happiness.
    • thumb
      Feb 16 2011: I got the same information as a child David..."no one can make you happy but yourself", and that was very valuable information, in my perception:>)

      The government is the people, and the people are the government, are we not? I don't expect the government to do something without my help! I agree that government is not responsible for individual happiness, and I also believe that the government we elect has a responsibility to serve all the people. In that respect, they (government officials) should have a clear picture of what matters most to most people. What do you think?
    • thumb
      Feb 17 2011: David, I agree and then disagree. We are responsible for our own happiness, and living in the United States there are conditions and opportunities that we take for granted on a daily basis that allows us to rest back on our laurels and think this is the only truth.

      Governments should not be charged with creating happiness by rather ensuring that the conditions for well-being are present. This doesn't have to create any more complex systems than we already have, in fact they could be simplified. This idea of measuring well-being is a synthesizing concept that could reduce the size of government through elimination of redundancies and the creation of more collaborative government bodies. Another conversation for another time perhaps...
      • thumb
        Feb 17 2011: I wholeheartedly agree that we take a lot for granted in the United States, and I also agree that ultimately, we are responsible for our own happiness. And yes, I percieve that the government could help ensure that the conditions for well-being are present and this could be done with much more simple systems. In order to achieve this, there would have to be some serious house cleaning in our government!
    • thumb
      Feb 17 2011: So it's not the government's function to "promote the general Welfare"? Perhaps it's time for a constitutional amendment.
      • thumb
        Feb 17 2011: I would like to see governments promote the general welfare of the people. If we go back to the basic ideas of the constitution, it appears to be a very well thought out, beneficial document. We seem to have complicated the government's practices, laws and policies with redundancies and complex systems, which may not be necessary? it's really difficult to simplify anything once it has become complex, but I believe it to be possible:>) I'll sign my name "Pollyanna":>) LOL
  • thumb
    Feb 16 2011: Its a lovely idea and of course begs the next question " What is happiness" but can government or rather the machinery of government engage into this area? I don't think government cannot directly improve overall happiness rather use the notion of increased happiness as a guiding image/value behind all policy and action. How would happiness as a policy driver sit with the politics of the state. It seems politicians ( and others) so often use fear as a social control mechanism . Fear of crime, disease, old age, youth, others etc. Would an increase in overall happiness result in reduced overall fear?
    Perhaps the first place to start would be to measure the happiness of governments and their servants.
  • thumb
    Feb 16 2011: The failure of capitalism and its values will naturally and inevitably demand that new measures of happiness are implemented. However, this will be a difficult task for the world's governments. New methods will have to be tested, and subjects of these experiments will be us.

    Now, the problem I see is that there are few governments that are genuinely devoted to increasing people's welfare. Usually, it is the balance between corporate lobbyists' and society's demands that politicians have to find. The measure of happiness is intended to shift the weight to society's side, increasing its welfare. However, at the moment there's so much uncertainty as to the definition of the happiness, its measurement etc., that this uncertainty can be easily exploited /against/ the welfare of society, of course in the most covert and subtle ways.

    The challenge, therefore, will be to find definitive and unambiguous indicators that will truly represent people's rates of happiness and leave no place for negative exploatation. This strict operationalization can be very difficult due to relatively elusive nature of happiness, where subjective criteria is unavoidable. However, it's only important that the subjectivity will remain with the people being surveyed, rather than with the politicians and lawyers devising the legislation.
  • thumb
    Feb 16 2011: isn't that the function of religion in a society?
    • Feb 16 2011: Interesting thought!

      If religion is our yardstick for happiness, and our government steps in and judges/discredits this... won't that leave a lot of people, er, unhappy?

      My question is HOW will we make this measurement? Isn't happiness relative - like art and poetry and music?
      • Feb 16 2011: "Please select your level of happiness:
        - Happy
        - Neutral
        - Unhappy"

        Something of the sort would have to be sent out to every single person.
      • thumb
        Feb 16 2011: perhaps I'm unaware of exactly what you mean but my point was fundamentally different.

        of course economic conditions affect people's happiness generally, but so do taxes, and not as much as war and famine.

        Governments exist to keep the citizenry safe from tyranny and safe from anarchy. they're to do little else. if they do more they're getting in the way of everyone and it's a pain.

        Churches and religion are essential (or at least have been essential for all of recorded human history) in order to keep a citizenry moral. and that morality is what fosters an environment where happiness can flourish. that's my point. you can't mandate happiness and governments can do nothing but mandate.

        tell the governments to get out of the way. measuring happiness is not the issue. just teaching people how to be good to each other is the best thing we can do to increase happiness generally. and that is the responsibility of the churches.
        • Feb 16 2011: I agree with you - organized religion has a place in all society since the beginning of time. It's how we (as questioning human beings) answer those un-answerable questions.

          I disagree however, with the idea that all churches teach morality. Many do promote that Golden Rule ("Do Unto Others...") but for a lot of religions right now, that's a bit like a parent telling a child, "Do as I say and not as I do..."

          And I completely disagree with the idea that only through church, do you learn the lessons of right and wrong. We won't learn that from government, either. I'd like to think that it is innate to all healthy human beings.

          I guess, before I can answer the question about a government's concern for our happiness, I need to understand how this happiness can be measured and determined by that same government. If you send me a form , you may get a different answer today than I will give tomorrow. Happiness is relative AND fleeting...
        • Feb 19 2011: perhaps that could be said of some religions, however many religions are intrinsically divisive, with clear rules on how to treat non-believers, enforcing distinction and discrimination. perhaps there wouldn't be all this unrest in iraq if there were no such thing is shia muslims only sunnis (or vice versa).
        • Feb 20 2011: Governments also exist for many other reasons. They should ensure human rights and freedoms are upheld. Governments can also promote healthy lifestyle. Governments are here to ensure the employees are not abused by their employers. Governments should be more concerned with protecting environment. They have the job to keep markets competitive (free from monopolies) and economy going (through control of interest rates). And so on.

          It is a common misconception that only religion keeps people moral. Morality is in part learnt from various sources and in part it is based on genes.

          One important job that the government has is to ensure that people have access to education. Education about happiness, ethics and work-life balance should be a high priority.
        • Feb 21 2011: hiya zdenek, long time.
          it's interesting that you mention access to education, and not the presence of education. i agree. it's terrible how in some country and some parts of countries education is restricted by psychologists who feel that students shouldn't learn how to deal with failure and instead force institutions to always be positive, by school boards who think that they know better than teachers what a curriculum should consist of and so limit what teachers are allowed to teach, and government bureaucrats who set fact-remembering-based tests as conditional on support, which has the effect of stifling real education.
        • Feb 22 2011: Hi Ben, good to 'see' you.

          Yes there are currently many barriers in the present education system and I think we have a few conversations here about how the system need to change. Luckily students can learn from the Internet (like with Wikipedia or TED) and people are becoming aware of these problems.
        • Feb 23 2011: Mr. Adam
          Yes indeed religion doesn't own morality yet some religions such as mine which is the christian-catholic religion is guided and teaches us about morale. And please do not say that what is that about the priests who rape childs they do not represent us the catholics for they are not us nor should you belive those fake catholics who believe only that which is best for them and not all of it. And yes science can answer questions about morality but so can religion. Let me ask something is abortion moraly correct? I believe it is not because since someone i s conceived they are alive and since they are alive they have complete right to be called human beings and if they are human beings they have the right to life but do you ask them before you kill them no you do not. I'm not saying that this is what you do or believe but what i am saying is that i believe that because of my religion and beause of science, So all I ask is that you do not take all religions to be saying that they own moralty that they created morality some just mean to guide us through it and help us understand it.
          PS: If I was disrespectful I am very sorry it was not my intention.
        • thumb
          Feb 24 2011: churches are there to keep people moral?

          I beg to differ. I am a deeply moral atheist. I won't debate the issue because I am frankly bored with it. But I will also not let the assertion pass without noting it's ridiculousness.
        • Feb 25 2011: Excuse me but it is not ridicule it is the truth it would be an entirely different thing to say that people just dont follow the rules as they should it is not my problem if you do not believe in any religion but it is my problem if you say that what I believe in is ridicule. Oh and by the way religion is diffirent that a church. Please next time you comment about someone else's religion know a little about it before you comment. Thank you.
    • thumb
      Feb 16 2011: Interesting concept Jordan. What about the people who are not connected with a church?
      • thumb
        Feb 17 2011: I'm speaking of churches as far as their place in society, not necessarily as part of every individual's life.

        a good analogy is the roads I drive on - they're paid for by taxes - taxes paid long before I started driving on them. so it is with the church's role in society. the groundwork has already been laid, whether or not I pay my taxes, whether or not I go to church.

        I of course didn't make this all up. this was our George Washington's and our other founding fathers' position too.
        • thumb
          Feb 17 2011: Good analogy with the roads Jordan:>) I agree that church's laid some ground work for moral behaviors. I also agree with Liz in the next thread, that some beliefs fostered by some churches have led the populous astray on some issues. I believe that we can draw from various sources to find our answers. Would it be benificial for individuals to take more responsibility for themselves with the support of churches, governments, civic groups, etc.? Do you think it's helpful or possible for churches and governments to relinqluish some of their control and participate more in the genuine empowerment of the people? That is my dream:>) I think for that to happen, many politicians and church leaders would have to give up their own agendas, and honestly evaluate how their actions impact the people they are serving.
        • Feb 20 2011: @Jordan: Individuals and societies before and during Christianity helped to develop and create a ground work for morality. For example see the Age of Enlightement (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_Enlightenment) or look at Greek philosophers.

          On some issues like women's and gay rights, slavery and freedom to vote, lots of ground work was done outside of church as well.
        • Feb 21 2011: jordan i agree with you that at the present time churches have that role, but do you believe that no other institution is capable of fulfilling that role in place of churches?

          persoally i think that although churches are given a place in society, that is not a necessity, as they do not provide something that no other organisation could.
    • thumb
      Feb 17 2011: Certainly not....though religions may claim so. They represent a great deal of culturally re-enforced unhappiness and constraint historically...especially for women, gay people. people of other religions and atheists...
      So regardless of their claims I would say no.
      • thumb
        Feb 17 2011: government can do no better unless one's happiness is dependent on the dole
        • thumb
          Feb 24 2011: try to stay on topic.... and perhaps broaden out your bookshelf.
      • Feb 21 2011: well said liz. i can't help but groan at christian women's groups...

        genesis 3:16 - "To the woman he said ... Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."

        and gay christian groups...

        leviticus 20:13 - "If a man lies with a male as with a women, both of them shall be put to death for their abominable deed; they have forfeited their lives."
      • thumb
        Feb 28 2011: I am on topic - governments cannot regulate happiness.
    • thumb
      Feb 17 2011: Main role of religion is to be a social control framework. They ''provided you'' with values and a code of morale to ''follow'' (as a guideline), and mainly hope (belief). Have religion frameworks enable us to avoid social chaos.

      At the end, the only person responsible for happiness is you, as happiness is a perception.
    • Feb 22 2011: Religion at it's very best gives people a sense of purpose in believing that an all powerful character exists.

      At it's worst you have:
      The oppression and possibly persecution of various minorities,
      Stringent refusal of participants to accept any new information about reality or it's functions (see creationism),
      And wonderful, perfectly acceptable at the time, historical events such as witch burnings.

      I'm going to have to say that no, religion has nothing to do with measuring people's happiness and if it does it's done a horrendous job of it.
  • thumb
    Feb 16 2011: 'Not everything that counts, can be counted; and not everything that can be counted, counts' Some people may think that happiness is a vague/ subjective phenomenon that is hard to measure and quantify and thus best left out of government policies or strategic initiatives. After all if you can't really measure the effectiveness of your interventions, maybe its a just a feel-good (pun intended) initiative with no real value.

    However the naysayers will do good to keep abreast of the burgeoning filed of positive psychology and studies after studies that have shown that happiness/ subjective well being can not only be quantified and measured accurately (one recent innovation being experience sampling method) but can also be increased deterministically by adequate personalized interventions/ changes in macro-environment.

    It is a sad state of affairs that census of most countries does not ask people their happiness and well being levels, but painstakingly documents the income/ expenditures/ savings. If anything one should measure the happiness level of individuals and also monitor aggregate national indices like violence level, suicidal incidence/ depression rates etc to monitor the happiness climate of the country.

    As Tal ben shahar, my positive psychology teacher, used to say in his class, money is not the ultimate currency - happiness is - all our actions are driven by that. I wont argue on those lines as I believe virtuous, though not-so-pleasurable, ground breaking work that many TEdsters are doing is proof enough that not everything in this world is about maximizing happiness; yet in a sense we all understand that Money/ status/ power are juts proxies for the real stuff- that of feeling happy and satisfied on having done ones bit and used ones ability to the fullest.
    I endorse Nics recommendations on tuning our eductaion spending in making children more creative and play-prone rather than making them cogs in the industrial/ post inductrial economic wheel.
  • thumb
    Feb 16 2011: How I wish they would much more in Singapore.

    It is our stated national goal in our national pledge which was written in the 1960s when we became an independent nation:

    We, the citizens of Singapore,
    pledge ourselves as one united people
    regardless of race, language or religion
    so as to achieve HAPPINESS,
    prosperity and progress for our nation.

    Singapore's pledge was inspired by the American founders and the US Declaration of Independence:

    "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
    • Feb 16 2011: I'm curious about the application of the last part: "happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation."

      Is it possible for the nation to be happy, prosper and progress while inhibiting / punishing one of its citizens for doing so? (I'm not referring to actions like murder or theft, which can make one happy at the expense of another.)

      For example, in early American history new styles of dancing and music were frowned upon by community leaders. Dance halls and bars were forcibly shut down simply because its patrons enjoyed a certain style of dance and music which leaders truly thought was immoral.

      Say the dance hall owner's happiness decreased when his establishment was shut down and the leaders' happiness increased. Since the leaders' increased, they would certainly say that what they thought was good for the nation, even though their actions negatively impacted the dance hall owner, a member of the nation.

      Does anything of this sort occur in Singapore, where the mainstream concepts of happiness, prosperity and progress override any individual's concept?