Can you measure happiness? And should we even try?

Two-old-people-laughingWe recently published a post on ‘let’s talk’ by Rin Hamburgh, a regular contributor to the Positive News network, which aims to  ‘inform, inspire and empower our readers, while helping create a more balanced and constructive media’. We are happier if read more positive news it seems; if we appreciate that despite what many journalists would have us believe, the world is full of good people, doing positive things to encourage global social and environmental change.

This has sparked a lot of interest on the blog, and here at The Terrace and we want to find out more. When the current UK government came into power in 2010, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, stated his aim that Britain should be happier and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) now produces analysis based on National Measures of Well-Being. These measures, including economic, environmental and social measures also includes a measure of ‘personal well-being’. The latest figures, for 2012/13 were released last month and showed that overall, 77% of us are satisfied with our lives overall and that around 70% of us would describe our happiness levels as ‘medium to high’. You can find links to all the latest data here.

There is a concern that if politicians and civil servants are measuring happiness, they will ask questions that skew the results in favour of their policies, or choose a sample that includes people they know to have relatively ‘happy’ lives by any standard. So here on ‘let’s talk’ we wanted to canvas your ideas about what constitutes well-being. Is happiness our ultimate goal? If so, what is it that makes a human ‘happy’. Can any of the questions be the same for everyone?

For an analysis of happiness, should we measure things like self-esteem, number of friends (real rather than online), engagement with and kindness to, other people, love of laughter and jokes. Or should we look to practical things like money and health?

The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire was developed by psychologists Michael Argyle and Peter Hills at Oxford University and includes such questions as:

  • I am intensely interested in other people.
  • I have very warm feelings towards almost everyone.
  • I find most things amusing.
  • I am always committed and involved.
  • I find beauty in some things.
  • I feel I have a great deal of energy

Alongside statements such as:

  • I do not think that the world is a good place.
  • I don’t think I look attractive.
  • I feel that I am not especially in control of my life.
  • I don’t find it easy to make decisions.
  • I don’t have a particular sense of meaning and purpose in my life.
  • I don’t have particularly happy memories of the past

Each statement is answered on a scale of 1 to 6, strongly disagree to strongly agree. You can take that questionnaire yourself here.

carouselimage1803_tcm77-356741Do the positive statements better measure our levels of happiness? If faced with a negative statement, are we more likely to respond to it in a negative way? There are so many questions and endless answers – surely we cannot all be grouped together under such an amorphous heading as ‘happiness’. Or can we?

We find this a fascinating subject, linking as it does to our commitment to overall well-being and physical and mental health. We also love to laugh, and find it therapeutic.

Do please comment and let us know what you think. We would love to publish your ideas about what makes you happy and how you think it could best be measured.

 

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One comment on “Can you measure happiness? And should we even try?

  1. rinhamburgh says:

    I’m not sure that we can truly measure happiness – it’s such a fluctuating feeling that the best we can ever do is get a snapshot of where we’re at right now (and it’s likely to be more complex than anything one word can capture). However I do think it’s important to monitor our overall well-being so that we can make changes if we’re consistently feeling low, and learn the actions and behaviours that can help us feel good. For me, happiness is being content in the moment, satisfied with the past and hopeful for the future.

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