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Editorials

If you’re happy and you know it...

Following a doom-laden winter of cuts and rumours of cuts, April's royal wedding was expected to put a spring back into the nation's step. Most Britons approve of our constitutional monarchy, but even republicans looking the other way can still appreciate a day off.

The one-off celebration will not provide much of a long-term feelgood factor, but the coalition government - now a year old - intends to take a more prolonged interest in public happiness. In April, the Office of National Statistics began its National Wellbeing Project, measuring our progress as a country not just by how our economy is growing, but by how our lives are improving in other ways. 'We'll continue to measure GDP as we've always done,' said the prime minister, 'but it is high time we admitted that, taken on its own, GDP is an incomplete way of measuring a country's progress.'

It is tempting to resent being told by a millionaire that money isn't as important as all that. But an understanding of quality of life that extends beyond the merely mercantile is something the church has been calling for since its inception.   For some time we have studied graphs of happiness that tip downwards as personal wealth increases, pointing at other surveys suggesting that churchgoing alleviates this trend. What could be better for the communication of Christian values than a national concentration on wellbeing?

The concept of Gross National Happiness was first mooted by the King of Bhutan in 1972. He used the phrase to signal his commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan's Buddhist values. The Centre for Bhutan Studies developed a sophisticated survey instrument to measure it, and has done so since 1976. Several other countries have followed suit.

But earlier this year, in an article entitled 'The GNH Fatigue', Bhutan's national newspaper reported that 'While the international community is intrigued and applauds at the efforts to quantify [GNH], many domestic observers roll their eyes ... After all these efforts on the ground by the researchers, has any difference been made to the way GNH is understood or perceived in the country today?' The government should instead 'address some of the more realistic and socially justifiable expectations of the people'. By this it meant building better roads and dealing with corruption - hardly the stuff of nebulous happiness quests.

In short, 30 years of research has shown that 'quality of life' for those on inadequate incomes is most easily addressed by dealing with people's material needs. Meanwhile, studies in the US show that people on adequate incomes are made most happy when helping others. It should not take an Office of National Statistics to show us what to do next.