The Washington Post reports:
Funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a panel of
experts in psychology and economics, including Nobel laureate Daniel
Kahneman, began convening in December to try to define reliable measures
of 'subjective well-being.' If successful, these could become official
The idea of the government tallying personal feelings
might seem frivolous -- or impossibly difficult. For decades, after
all, the world has gotten by with gauging a nation’s quality of life on
the basis of its GDP, or gross domestic product, the sum of its
economic output. But economists and others have long recognized that
GDP, a dollars and cents measure, doesn’t count everything that might
be considered important when assessing living conditions."
Alan Krueger, the chair of the president's Council of Economic Advisors is a leading researcher in the field of happiness measurement. According to the Post, President Obama has "welcomed" the effort.
The U.S. wouldn't be the first country to try something like this. King Jigme
Singye Wangchuck of Bhutan famously pledged in 1972 to measure his country's progress not in GDP but in "gross national happiness." The idea has been somewhat discredited since, as Bhutanese government's definition of happiness seems to include ethnic cleansing and bizarrely intrusive authoritarianism.
French president Nicolas Sarkozy rolled out a new happiness measurement as an official economic indicator in 2009 after commissioning a special report from Nobel Prize winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen. British Prime Minister David Cameron has also suggested including happiness measurements along with GDP.
I'm all for investigating alternatives to GDP, and happiness measurement seems like a promising area for economic research. But politically -- particularly during a time of measurable economic distress -- this seems like a hard sell.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images