Taking action on happiness requires measuring what matters

By John Copps 12 April 2011

I woke up this morning to a discussion on the radio about what makes us happy. The prompt for this is the launch of Action for Happiness, a new ‘movement for social change’ that aims to promote happiness as the ultimate goal of individuals, communities and government policy.

On its website (designed by our whizzy friends at Public Zone), the authors lament that ‘for fifty years we’ve aimed relentlessly at higher incomes. But despite being much wealthier, we’re no happier than we were five decades ago…it’s time for a positive change in what we mean by progress.’

This is a laudable goal, but of course it needs to mean something practically. Action for Happiness propose 10 Keys to Happier Living, including ‘do things for others’, ‘connect with people’ and ‘be part of something bigger’. Its examples of practical action make a lot of sense but it’s difficult not to feel confused about precisely what the end goal is.

Part of the success of using growth in income as our definition of ‘progress’ is that it is easy to measure. Unfortunately, up to now, the same cannot be said of happiness.

If you are a regular follower of NPC’s work, you’ll have heard about the development of our Well-being Measure – a tool designed for charities and schools to evaluate their impact on young people. At the moment it’s being used by a small number of diverse organisations – including Action for Children, BBC Children in Need and Wellington College. We look forward to welcoming more users when it becomes more widely available later in the year.

Our work joins the recent efforts of The Children’s Society, the Young Foundation and the New Economics Foundation to measure well-being in different contexts. But what’s different about NPC’s Well-being Measure is that it is practical and developed with the goals and limitations of front-line organisations in mind.

Working with Public Zone, we’ve created a tool to take the hassle out of measuring: it’s all online, you don’t need to be an expert in statistics, and the results are presented clearly and simply.

The success of Action for Happiness relies on finding a way of measuring what matters. In doing this NPC hopes to make an important and influential contribution.