Measuring happiness
BY 音云 from 21st Century
Published 2012-04-26

导读:很多国家都将衡量国民幸福指数(National Happiness Index)的工作提上议程。而幸福指数真的会替代国民生产总值成为衡量国家发展程度的标杆吗?

Should we judge the progress of a country based on how happy its people feel instead of economic indicators such as per capita income?

This was the question posed by Well-being and Happiness, a high-level meeting which took place at the UN’s General Assembly in New York on April 2.

Participants at the event discussed a new economic paradigm called Gross National Happiness (GNH) to replace the traditional per capita Gross National Product (GNP) as a gauge of national progress.

Happiness research, believe it or not, has been one of the hottest fields in development economics.

More and more economists are committed to studying what constitutes happiness and making recommendations to governments about how best to increase it.

Columbia University’s Earth Institute in the US recently published the first World Happiness Report, commissioned by the UN.

The report finds that the world’s happiest countries are in northern Europe (Denmark, Norway, Finland, the Netherlands) and the most miserable are in Africa (Togo, Benin, Central African Republic, and Sierra Leone).

The report is one of a number of new products from the happiness industry. According to The Washington Post, a group of experts including Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in economics, met last December to draw up measures of “subjective well-being”.

The group is financed by the American government, and if its measures are deemed reliable they could become official statistics.

If so, the United States would become the latest country to jump aboard the happiness bandwagon.

According to a recent article on The Economics website, the French government started publishing its own happiness indicator in 2009.

Britain’s Office for National Statistics has a program for measuring national well-being, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development is drawing up guidelines so its members (mostly the rich, industrialized countries) can produce “well-being data”.

Happiness researchers break down people’s feelings into “affective happiness” (everyday ups and downs) and “evaluative happiness” (a person’s overall assessment of his or her life).

They have constructed indicators that look at happiness from different vantage points, using questions such as “How happy were you yesterday?”; “All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole nowadays?”; and “Taking all things together, would you say you are: very happy, quite happy, not very happy or not at all happy?”

The different answers give economists plenty to argue about.

No doubt this emerging science is improving the understanding of what happiness is. But the authors of the World Happiness Report want to go further than just providing information.

They argue that happiness can be measured objectively; that it differs systematically across societies and over time; that happiness has predictable causes and is correlated to specific things (such as wealth, income distribution, health and political institutions); and that therefore it should be possible for government to create the right conditions for happiness to flourish.

The authors want governments to use happiness as a guide to public policy, rather as they use GNP now.

However, different individuals have different definitions of happiness. Would it really be such a good idea for a government to decide it knows better what constitutes people’s happiness and how they can best pursue it?

(Translator & Editor: 21英语 Wendy AND Aaron)
indicator  指标
per capita income  人均收入
paradigm  范例,示例
gauge  标准量度
constitute  组成,构成
commission  委托
subjective  主观
deem  认为
affective  情感的
evaluative  可估价的
vantage  优势
predictable  可预测的
correlate  使互相关联
flourish  昌盛,繁荣