For decade after decade our country has been getting richer; however, research also shows that we are no happier now than we were back in the 1950s. Although we can afford more microwave ovens, more cars and more iPods, it often turns out that our lives are just as stressful as ever.
If we actually want to improve our quality of life, not just become wealthier, we need think again about what we value in society.
The first thing we should do to improve our wellbeing is to properly measure it. Some people say that you cannot measure wellbeing; however Richard Layard’s book ‘Happiness: Lessons from a New Science’ shows how simply asking people “on a scale of 1-10 how satisfied are you with your life as a whole” gives a surprisingly accurate assessment of their wellbeing.
More detailed measures, such as the WEMWBS (Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale) are already being rolled out across Scotland.
The politics of wellbeing is an infant subject, but there is already evidence for a few policies that could make us happier.
One example is to extend flexible working rights. Research from Badenoch & Clark shows that people who are allowed to work flexibly are usually happier than those who cannot. Flexible working makes people’s lives less stressful by allowing them to better juggle work and family commitments – for example, picking up children from school whilst holding down a full-time job.
All Party Parliamentary Group
To take the wellbeing agenda forward in Parliament, I founded the All Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics. The group has members from all major Westminster parties and provides a forum for MPs and Lords to discuss the issues involved.
Full details can be found here http://parliamentarywellbeinggroup.org.uk/