Leader_Happy in adversity
It would be logical to assume that with rising unemployment, a shrinking economy and an almost daily diet of euro crisis, Britain would be a deeply unhappy nation. Yet the government’s first attempt to measure the wellbeing of its citizens shows that despite all the bad news, the British are, in fact, a rather happy lot.
Roughly three-quarters of the 80,000 people surveyed in the depths of last year’s gloom gave marks of more than seven out of 10 when scoring their general satisfaction with life. The remarkable footnote is that the survey was taken at the very moment that Britain’s confidence was shaken by strikes, student unrest and youth riots in the cities. If anything it proves that happiness is relative. Things may be bad, but there is always someone worse off than yourself.
It may be that the British actively enjoy a good moan, despite their reputation for having a stiff upper lip. And if ever there was a lot to grumble about, it is surely now when public spending is being cut and unemployment stands at 8.4 per cent. Look at Northern Ireland, where the axe has fallen hardest. There, the population scores higher on satisfaction, fulfilment and happiness than in England, Scotland or Wales. Of course that could be due to a marginally better performance on employment and a relatively younger population.
Measuring a nation’s happiness has its uses. When government cannot splash out on creating jobs and new public services, and everyone has to tighten their belts, the feel-good factor counts. As Bobby Kennedy said in 1968, the cold calculator of gross national product “does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
There is also evidence to suggest that wellbeing is a good indicator of future healthcare needs. A survey by Gallup, the polling group, claims that countries with a happy population require less medical treatment than depressed nations.
But the science of how to measure wellbeing is still at such an early stage that its value as a policy tool remains unproven. Taking a loose reading of the British government’s subjective wellbeing data, the happiest category of person should be a white male with five or more adolescent children, who works fewer than 16 hours a week. He may be happy. But this is hardly the goal to which the rest of the nation can or should aspire.
去年危机深重之际，8万名受访者中，有约四分之三的人在生活总体满意度这一项上打了7分以上（满分10分）。值得注意的是，调查进行之际，正是英国 人的自信心因为许多城市里的罢工、学生骚乱和年轻人闹事而受到动摇之时。如果说调查结果证明了什么，那只能是：幸福是相对的。情况或许不如意，但总有比你 处境更差的人。
或许这是因为，英国人真心喜欢发牢骚，尽管他们有喜怒不形于色的名声。如果真有什么时候需要大大抱怨一下的话，那一定是现在——政府正在削减公共支 出、失业率高达8.4%。看看受影响最厉害的北爱尔兰，那里的民众在生活满意度、成就感和幸福感三项的打分均超过了英格兰、苏格兰和威尔士。当然，这可能 缘于该地区就业情况略好，人口结构相对较年轻。
衡量一个民族的幸福感是有用的。当政府拿不出什么招儿来创造就业和提供新的公共服务、所有人都必须勒紧裤腰带时，感觉好就成为一件有分量的事情。如 罗伯特•肯尼迪(Bobby Kennedy)在1968年说过的，冰冷的国民生产总值数字“既不考虑我们下一代的健康和教育质量，也不计算他们玩耍时的快乐。总之，它什么都计算，就 是不算那些使生活有意义的东西。”