A New York Times Op-Ed piece today raises a provocative question: Should the government attempt to discover and measure how happy we are, and try to come up with policies that might raise the general level of happiness?
Before you reply that government policies are the main cause of your unhappiness, check it out here. This graph hints at the complexities of the question, and will further depress millions of parents:
Happiness is clearly real, related to objective measures of well-being. Happier people have lower blood pressure and get fewer colds. But using it to guide policy could be tricky. Not least because we don’t quite understand why it behaves the way it does. Men are unhappiest at almost 50, and women at just after 45. Paraplegics are not unhappier than healthy people. People who live with teenagers are the unhappiest of all.
(Ouch. But I swear, she was a sweet little girl just a year ago! And it only lasts seven years.)
Oddly, the Times writers seem not to know the brilliant work done by Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert in Stumbling On Happiness. I recommend the book for at least a deep skim; if you’d like to hear a radio piece with my reflections on the book, click here and choose MP3.