Getting the measure

The widespread coverage of Government plans to introduce wellbeing measures to sit alongside the work of the Office of National Statistics in measuring economic output is interesting. Various papers today have praised the initiative while others have ridiculed it as an impossible fiction.

That illustrious organ The Daily Mail today runs a typically balanced and nuanced editorial arguing that happiness is fixed (at 25 years of age) and that no amount of change in the world around you will shift it. The article concedes that should you “fall prey to a condition such as clinical depression” then things might be a bit different but then goes on to rubbish the initiative arguing that “you can win the Lottery, or lose both legs in an accident, and a year later your innate sense of happiness will most likely have returned to its former level”.

For the sake of argument, lets accept the idea that a sense of happiness is constant and fixed for many people. But clinical depression – otherwise ignored in the Daily Mail article – affects millions of people in the UK. Estimates vary from between 1 in 4 women to 1 in 10 of the adult population. If you add in the families of those people affected by depression and you have a significant chunk of society whose happiness or otherwise is vulnerable and fragile. Moreover, you have many people whose lives and wellbeing can be affected and changed by interventions – medical and otherwise. That surely is worth keeping an eye on – or measuring.

Given that health professionals chart a direct link between unemployment, social isolation and poverty on the one hand and depression on the other, I would have thought that now – as job losses loom – would be a good time to start thinking about measuring wellbeing.

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