A Spoonful of Happiness



 UK Prime Minister David Cameron has often spoken about the necessity of  increasing the level of general well-being of citizens.

Speaking at the Google Zeitgeist Europe conference a few days ago he said that


 “It’s time we admitted that there’s more to life than money and it’s time we focused not just on GDP but on GWB – general wellbeing. …………Improving our society’s sense of wellbeing is, I believe, the central political challenge of our times.”

And to this end, recognising the need to first gauge the existing level of wellbeing in UK society, he has asked The Office for National Statistics to quantify wellbeing.

Over the coming months  the country’s statisticians will devise a set of questions to measure Britons’ subjective quality of life.”

These responses will form the basis of a new gauge that will be published at regular intervals,  perhaps alongside figures on gross domestic product (GDP).

Inclusion of wellbeing in measuring progress, would perhaps increase the value of benefits of environmentally friendly projects, among others.

The UK is not the first nation to adopt this way of measuring the progress of its society, though.

 India’s close neighbour, Bhutan, uses an index of Gross National Happiness (GNH) rather than the GDP, to measure its development.

The GNH forms the basis of Bhutan’s five year planning process — it is the responsibility of the state to create an environment so that citizens can be happy — and is based on four pillars: sustainable development, preservation of culture, conservation of environment, and good governance.

I find this an intriguing concept. How wonderful it would be if we could measure the contentedness or wellbeing of society and formulate policies which would increase it.

 But is it really possible to measure wellbeing or happiness?

A former Cardiff University lecturer, Dr Cliff Arnall, says that it is.

Attaching numbers to factors usually considered immeasurable, he has created a happiness formula: O + (N x S) + Cpm/T + He.

O + (N x S) + Cpm/T + He.

O – being outdoors

N – nature

S – social interaction

Cpm – childhood summer memories

T – temperature

He –  holiday excitement

Using this formula he says it is possible to calculate when things which make us feel good will be at their greatest value– in effect, when our happiness will be at its highest point. By his calculation-

“The third Friday in June came out with the highest rating due to peaking happiness factors such as warm summer evenings outdoors, seeing friends more frequently, and excitement about holidays.”

So, what do you think?

Do you think it is possible to measure happiness? Would the factors adding up to happiness be the same for all persons?

Some people would give more weightage to fine weather, some to availability of good books. Some would value good working conditions, while others would give more importance to family life.

And assuming we did adopt a formula for happiness, would our Indian government implement policies so that the Gross National Happiness of India would be maximised?

What do you think?



  1. Oh Manju, how can the poor quantify happiness when they don’t even have enough to eat and for other basic necessities. If the questions were put to those in the BPL category, what would they say? I think these parameters can be used for selective groups to formulate selective policies.


    1. As per the news report, I don’t think the UK PM meant for the poor to quantify happiness. It is for the govt. to formulate policies which will maximise the people’s ‘happiness’. The survey is just to get an idea of their level of wellbeing.

      His view is that the govt. should seek to raise the level of the quality of life of citizens rather than just income in money terms.

      Not really a bad idea, but difficult to implement, I think! 🙂


    2. This brough to my mind the well known anecdote.. money never means everything for many..
      The Story of the Mexican Fisherman
      An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

      The Mexican replied, “only a little while.”

      The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish?

      The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.

      The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”

      The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.”

      The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

      The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

      To which the American replied, “15 – 20 years.”

      “But what then?” Asked the Mexican.

      The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”

      “Millions – then what?”

      The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”


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