France's new measure of well-being: Boredom

French President Nicolas Sarkozy gestures before addressing the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos.

Jeremy Hobson: France is the latest country to move beyond Gross Domestic Product -- or GDP -- to measure economic success. And unlike many countries these days, the Frenchare not switching to measures of well-being and happiness. Instead, the French Office of Economic Analysis has announced plans to systematically measure ennui.

Marketplace's David Brancaccio reports.


David Brancaccio: In addition to new measures of well-being in his country, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said today there must be balance, calling for new, regular government surveys of public levels of "ennui," or boredom. Sarkozy said the intention is to "Keep France French" by insuring that Anglo-American-style happiness does not get out of hand.

Emilie Zola is leading the project for the government statistics office.

Emilie Zola: Ennui correlates with a lack of social engagement; a bored worker is not a productive worker. That said, ennui can drive the creative process and, therefore, drive innovation.

Researchers have an innovative way to assess ennui in real time by electronically monitoring a random sample of French workers who spend computer time playing what's known as "solitaire," a kind of solo card game popular in France. Amid privacy concerns, Google rejected a proposal to monitor French Internet searches of the term "nihilism."

Joanna Keynes at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington says researchers in the U.S. are watching the French project closely.

Joanna Keynes: This is a really key development in the emerging field of "idleness studies." Official statistics are very good at tracking economic activity. But economic inactivity is equally important.

A challenge for statisticians, experts say, is finding a way to distinguish between a run-of-the-mill sense of tedium and the more general world-weariness so prevalent in France.

I'm David Brancaccio for Marketplace.


Jeremy Hobson: And with that, enjoy the holiday.

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio

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