Promoting Happiness as Public Policy
Listen to our story about Michael Pennock’s work here.
He is our guest in this Science Forum discussion. Pennock is a public health expert with the Provincial Health Services Authority in Vancouver, British Columbia. Until recently, he worked at the Vancouver Island Health Authority in Victoria.
In 2006, Pennock and his wife, Martha, helped Bhutan develop its Gross National Happiness Index by creating a survey to measure happiness. They have since designed a similar survey for their hometown, Victoria, and it is being adopted by other cities elsewhere in the world. The idea is that these happiness indices can help governments create policies that improve the public’s quality of life.
Pennock’s skepticism stemmed from the fact that, in Western countries, governments focus on economic development. The assumption is that happiness will follow. But, as Pennock came to learn, that isn’t necessarily the case.
“In a lot of developed countries, despite the fact that in the last 20-25 years we’ve seen a substantial amount of economic growth, the percentage who say they’re satisfied with their life is completely flat and. in some cases, [has] dropped off,” he says.
That has led several countries to adopt Bhutan’s approach. The U.K., France, China and Ecuador are measuring happiness in their populations in order to develop happiness indices.
Because happiness is a subjective thing, these surveys leave it up to the respondents to use their own definition of happiness. The idea is to measure not just how happy people are, but also how satisfied they are with their lives. (In Pennock’s survey, happiness and life-satisfaction levels are taken together as a gauge of quality of life.) The surveys also ask people about factors known to influence happiness, like health, trust in government, quality of the environment and a sense of community and social support.
Pennock’s happiness survey revealed that the people of Victoria are pretty content with their lives. They scored their happiness and life-satisfaction levels at 7.6 on a 10-point scale. Victorians rated themselves highly on their sense of community and the state of their environment. However, most respondents said they were struggling to live a balanced life. The city government is trying to figure out how it can ease the time crunch Victorians experience. Whether the city succeeds in this effort will be revealed by future happiness surveys.
The Happy Planet Index
‘Britain to introduce ‘happiness index,’ on American Public Media’s Marketplace.
More on the U.K.’s and France’s efforts to measure happiness.
Learn more about happiness and well-being from one of the world’s foremost well-being researchers, Nic Marks.