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Counting isn't action, and it's action that counts

25 Jul 2011 | Action for Happiness

* Action for Happiness calls for government action to improve national well-being not just measure it  *

PRESS RELEASE: Monday 25 July 2011

As the government today confirms its plans to measure national well-being, Action for Happiness is calling on the government to start reshaping policy to increase well-being. It is urging much greater priority for mental health, life skills education and support for the most disadvantaged people (see below for details). Individuals must play their part too, which is why thousands of Action for Happiness members are taking action to increase happiness and well-being in their families, workplaces and communities right across the UK.

Since its launch in April 2011, around 15,000 members have joined Action for Happiness from over 100 countries. Members pledge to "try to create more happiness and less unhappiness in the world around".

Over the coming months the movement will be focusing on three priority areas of activity:

  1. Creating a network of local Action for Happiness groups, to support its members in enabling positive changes in their local communities;
  2. Working with schools to encourage a greater focus on happiness and well-being and equipping children with essential life skills;
  3. Getting employers to take action to create happier workplaces, and see the benefits both for employees and organisations.

This action by individuals and organisations must be supported by bold government action too. Of course, government cannot make people happy; but it must create the conditions in which people can lead happier lives.

Today's publication of findings from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) consultation on measuring national well-being is a vital step forward towards measuring what really matters, and is to be welcomed. But so far there has been too little debate about the actions required to increase well-being.

Geoff Mulgan, CEO of NESTA said "Governments have shown remarkable bravery in committing to measure wellbeing. But so far much less has been done to adapt policies so that they have a more positive influence on wellbeing. This must be the next priority, since measurement without action is a recipe for frustration. Counting isn't action; it's action that counts."

Richard Layard, professor of economics at LSE said "Over the last 60 years average happiness has not increased at all in Britain, despite unprecedented economic growth and increases in living standards. It's time for a new definition of progress and the government's plans to measure well-being are a welcome step in the right direction. But we urgently need policies that have a positive impact on well-being. Action for Happiness is calling for government action in vital areas such as mental health, life skills for young people and support for the disadvantaged."

Mark Williamson, Director of Action for Happiness said "It's encouraging to see the UK becoming a world-leader in the area of happiness and well-being. Action for Happiness is the first movement focused on this theme and the government's plans to measure well-being are at the forefront of work in this field globally. It's vital we now capitalise on this momentum and move from debate to action to improve people's lives. Action for Happiness' members recognise that we can each make a difference in the way we approach our lives, but we need the government to take action too".


For media enquiries, please contact: Alison Harvey +44 (0) 20 8709 9265; Email: alison.harvie@youngfoundation.org or media@actionforhappiness.org 


Key Policy Areas - Further Detail

Action for Happiness is highlighting three key policy areas in which action is essential to increase national well-being. There are of course many other areas where action will also be vital.

  1. Mental health. Good mental health is an essential foundation for well-being. One in four British adults experiences some kind of mental health problem each year and one in six has a diagnosable case of clinical depression and/or chronic anxiety disorder. Tragically only a quarter of these people have been in treatment. Moreover, many people with mental health problems now face the risk of severe cuts in services. It is essential that we invest in this area, particularly in modern psychological therapies that have been shown to be effective. These treatments transform lives, yet should involve no net cost to the taxpayer due to expected savings on incapacity benefit and lost taxes [1].
  2. Children and young people. It is much better to invest in preventing mental illness than on treating it. Yet levels of anxiety and depression in young people have doubled over the last 40 years and so have conduct problems. A major role of our educational system must be to help children develop the capabilities and attitudes they need to lead a happy life and contribute to the happiness of others. Yet many schools pay far too little attention to helping children develop these social and emotional skills and values. This needn't be at the expense of academic attainment; in fact, happy, resilient students will generally do better academically. There are now well-tested materials available for schools to use, such as the Penn Resiliency Programme which has been piloted in three UK local authorities with very promising results. [2].
  3. Support for disadvantaged people. Average levels of happiness and well-being are important, but above all it is essential that we act to improve the situation of those who are most in need. In addition to income support where necessary, this must involve helping people to help themselves wherever possible, for example through skill formation or enabling stronger connections in local communities. It is extremely worrying that disadvantaged groups are likely to be among those most badly affected by planned cuts to public services. Rather than putting their well-being further at risk, we should be investing in essential support where it's most needed, such as help for isolated older people, support for disadvantaged parents and high quality children's centres. [3] Cross-country evidence also shows clear correlation between well-being and equality, with lower income inequality linked to better outcomes on a wide range of social measures. So we also need policies to encourage income equality. [4]


[1] Layard, R., Clark, D., Knapp, M. and Mayraz, G. (2007), Cost benefit analysis of psychological therapy, National Institute Economic Review.

[2] Challen, A.R., Machin, S.J., Noden, P. and West, A. (2010), UK Resilience Programme Evaluation: Second Interim Report: DFE, Research Report DFE-RR006.

[3] Field, F. (2010), The Foundation Years: preventing poor children becoming poor adults: The report of the Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances.

[4] Wilkinson, R. and Pickett, K, (2009), The Spirit Level: Why more equal societies almost always do better, London: Allen Lane/Penguin.


About Action for Happiness

Action for Happiness is a mass movement to create a happier society. Launched in April 2011, it aims to create a fundamentally different culture where people care more for the happiness of others.

The movement's interactive website, www.actionforhappiness.org, gives access to a range of tools and ideas based on the latest scientific research, including 10 keys to happier living and 50 practical actions to take. Rejecting a societal focus on materialism and self-obsessed individualism, the movement instead prioritises healthy relationships with others and meaningful activities as a means to happier living. It provides practical information about how people can take action at home, at work and in their community to help to create real and lasting change; increasing the happiness of others and, in turn, themselves.

Action for Happiness is a not-for-profit initiative free from political, commercial, religious and other partisan affiliations. It was founded by Lord Richard Layard, Geoff Mulgan and Dr Anthony Seldon. Its Director is Dr Mark Williamson. To join the movement visit: www.actionforhappiness.org

Action for Happiness is part of The Young Foundation, a centre for social innovation, which is a Registered Charity (274345) and Company Limited by Guarantee (1319183) in England and Wales. www.youngfoundation.org


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