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One woman's happiness is another's lunch date disaster.


CAN you measure what makes you happy? The Office for National Statistics has been trying to do just that since David Cameron threw pounds 2m at them for a national consultation on British contentment levels.

You'd think the ONS would have better things to do with its time than track our collective path to nirvana. Count pot holes or something. Or measure waistlines. Or quantify the environmental value of the single carrier bag charge.

But every few months or so we get a new little titbit from them describing what allegedly brings bliss to Britain. Many of the findings come straight from the Research Department of the Completely Obvious.

"Revelations" include unemployed people are less content than those in work. Shock. Divorced people are unhappier than those in stable relationships. You don't say? Though Katie Holmes may beg to differ.

And the latest key to happiness is... learning. The Government's wellbeing barometer found the higher people's level of general education the more satisfied they were with their daily life and the more worthwhile they felt.

According to the survey, people with A-levels are 30% more likely to be satisfied than those with no qualifications. (And 100% of those who took A-levels in the past 10 years are particularly smug because they've all got A*s doing much easier exams than we did. I just made that up, by the way).

Having A-levels may make you happier. But sitting them produced no joy at all. In fact, from what I can remember about the summer of 1987, A-levels only brought cold sores, sleepless nights and prolonged bouts of weeping.

When not stating the obvious, Cameron's Contentment Calculator is attempting to crunch the uncomputable. You only have to consider the unfathomable popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey to appreciate one person's agony is another's ecstasy. It's also a rather patronising exercise, not to say excluding. Not everyone fits the template of this prescriptive contentment. Each happiness statistic released thus far builds towards the Tory dream of a Bodenwearing, happily-married high-earning couple and their wholesome kids heading for top grade A-levels.

If we weren't miserable before the ONS told us what should make us happy we certainly will be afterwards.

The PM is not the first politician to try out a "happiness index". Tony Blair commissioned various studies and "life satisfaction" seminars but in the end those involved say he found the idea just too flaky.

When Cameron launched the ONS project in 2010 he quoted former US senator Robert Kennedy, who said GDP measured everything "except that which makes life worthwhile".

Cameron reckoned the information gathered would help "Britain re-evaluate its priorities in life".

If his government's priorities were concentrating on the economic growth that would improve the GDP rather than asking us if having a boyfriend is the source of contentment, we'd all be happier.

So butt out Cameron and let us fret about what frees us from anxiety without having to dictate it to someone from the government with a clipboard.

Chances are, if we really told you what makes us happy you'd never be able to put it through the computers. The simplest pleasures in life are far too random, personal and idiosyncratic.

For example, when asked to cite his source of delight Roy Hattersley revealed his love of grooming his dog at bedtime.

Sociologist Lucy Kellaway, meanwhile, recounted the little frisson of joy she feels when someone rings up to cancel a lunch appointment. With you on that one, Lucy.


* How can you possibly turn Roy Hattersley's love of grooming his dog at bedtime into a statistic?
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 9, 2012
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