Putting happier nations on the policy agenda
In November 2010 Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the Coalition Government would start measuring progress 'not just by how our economy is growing, but by how our lives are improving' - partly influenced by findings from the Wellbeing and Economics research project, led by Andrew Oswald, Professor of Economics at the University of Warwick.
Academic research into wellbeing is slowly changing how politicians think. Now, Professor Oswald points out, we are increasingly aware of 'the profound need in modern society to measure human wellbeing in ways that go far beyond traditional economists' ways'. Standard indices of a country's prosperity - such as the level of Gross Domestic Product - are well-known and widely collected. Yet if they are to do their job effectively, politicians and policymakers arguably have to go beyond GDP. They have to try to understand, and measure, the happiness and mental health of their country's citizens.
Almost everyone is interested in happiness, yet much of this fascinating research area lies almost uncharted. Data tells us that happy people are disproportionately the young and old (not middle-aged), rich, educated, married, in work, health, exercise-takers, with high fruit-and-vegetable diets and slim. Furthermore, happy nations are disproportionately rich, educated, democratic, trusting and low-employment. We know that some nations are happier than others - for example Denmark, the Netherlands and Ireland. But knowledge on why that should be is sparse.
Understanding the determinants of something as complex as happiness is difficult, Professor Oswald argues. The last few decades have seen a body of researchers attempt to rise to the difficult challenge of how to study 'happiness' in a systematic, empirical way. Looking ahead, bringing together researchers from a range of disciplines -- including psychology, economics, epidemiology, medicine, statistics, sociology, political science, and management science – will lead to a better understanding of what really determines human wellbeing and how best to measure it.