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Happy now?

09 Apr 2011 | Financial Times

Do you agree that your life has a sense of purpose? Would you say that, overall, you have a lot to be proud of? Do you wish you lived somewhere else? Coming out of the blue, these are tricky questions to answer. Yet they aren't aimed at adults. They come from a questionnaire for children aged 11 to 16.

The charity think-tank New Philanthropy Capital has devised the questions as part of its "well-being measure", a 15-minute survey that asks about relationships with family, school and community, as well as self-esteem and life satisfaction. The tool, being tested now, is designed to be used by charities, schools and youth groups to work out how happy (or not) children are. John Copps, who runs the project at NPC, believes the survey is capturing something that has been elusive: it is, he says, "putting a number on a feeling".

The desire to match numbers to feelings is popular at the moment. In November last year, prime minister David Cameron put happiness at the centre of government policy when he announced that the Office for National Statistics would produce a national "well-being index" alongside its usual tables measuring income, health, births and deaths. And from this month, as part of the data-gathering, about 200,000 people a year will be asked new questions about their life satisfaction as part of the Integrated Household Survey.

Though Cameron has acknowledged that many will think the idea of happiness measuring "airy-fairy and impractical", it looks as if it is here to stay: official enthusiasm for monitoring and improving our collective happiness - or lack of it - has never been higher. This week the UK's best-known happiness expert, Richard Layard, a professor of economics at the LSE, co-launches Action for Happiness, "a new mass movement to create a happier society".

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