"The Department of Happiness"

The LA Times recently blogged about the possibility of a Department of Happiness:

Someday in the not-too-distant future, the U.S. departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Justice and Labor could be joined be a new executive branch entity: The Department of Happiness.

And while that may sound far-fetched, the case for using well-being research in public policy has been growing, particularly in the U.K.

Charles Seaford, head of the Centre for Well-being at the New Economics Foundation in London argues in this month's Nature magazine that it's "Time to legislate for the good life" and that a single measurement is required to advance the case for well-being:

A headline statistic that captures well-being -- a measure that voters recognize and can use to hold politicians to account, like the unemployment or economic growth figures -- could make the difference.

And by keeping track of a single measurement, he argues, it will be easier to do a cost-benefit analysis of well-being and to ultimately influence policy.

Voters will come to see that movements in the measure -- like those of GDP or inflation or carbon emissions -- are the responsibility of politicians. Politicians will then have to take the well-being measures seriously and act on the advice of the analysts.

He also writes that it needs to be a measurement that can be used for international comparison, so it could eventually transcend borders and intercultural differences.

So just as politicians rely on the Bureau of Economic Analysis for the regular release of the GDP numbers to inform policy, we might soon turn to the Department of Happiness for the GDW (Gross Domestic Well-being?) or the NHI (National Happiness Index?).

About the author

Amanda Aronczyk is a public radio reporter and producer.

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