Sat, Jan 08, 2011 - Page 9 News List

Politicians should consider
the happiness factor

Figures about happiness seem to be as accurate as many of the statistics regularly used by politicians, such as public opinion polls, poverty rates and GDP growth — all of which are riddled with imperfections

By Derek Bok

Of course, happiness research is still new. Many questions remain unexplored, some studies lack sufficient confirmatory evidence and still others, like those involving the effects of economic growth, have yielded conflicting results.

Therefore it would be premature to base bold new policies on happiness research alone, or to follow the example of tiny Bhutan by adopting Gross National Happiness as the nation’s principal goal. Yet the findings may be useful to lawmakers even today — for example, in assigning priorities among several plausible initiatives or in identifying new possibilities for policy interventions that deserve further study.

At the very least, governments should follow Britain and France, and consider publishing regular statistics on trends in the well-being of their citizens. Such findings will surely stimulate useful public discussion, while yielding valuable data for investigators to use.

Beyond that, who knows?

Further research will doubtless provide more detailed and reliable information about the kinds of policies that add to people’s happiness. Someday, perhaps, public officials may even use the research to inform their decisions. After all, what could matter more to their constituents than happiness?

In a democracy, at least, that should surely count for something.

Derek Bok is a former president of Harvard University.

COPYRIGHT: PROJECT SYNDICATE/INSTITUTE FOR HUMAN SCIENCES

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