France to consider measures of gross national “bonheur” (happiness)

It looks like the government of France is following in the footsteps of Bhutan and the United Kingdom and is taking the idea of using happiness as a national indicator more seriously.

The article from the Telegraph is consistent with a growing drumbeat among academics and politicians to consider national indicators of well being.  The challenge is to convince those in policy positions of two things:

-  It’s important to remove concerns that productivity goals will be sacrificed. There is research (Deutsch 1975; Hofstede 1980) that indicates that well being and social goals form a distinct cluster from agentic goals like productivity.  How can advocates of well being measures avoid this traditional tension and the inevitable backlash from those who are more productivity focused?  This is especially difficult in times of crisis as research suggests that feelings of threat increase the desire to focus on productivity.

- It’s important to show the scientific validity of measures of happiness.  I am not sure what the right balance is, but on it’s face, “happiness” is not something that can be measured well.  It is too multi-dimensional.  Would it be better to measure more discrete emotions such as societal anxiety, depression, joy, and satisfaction (based on Feldman-Barrett and Russell’s taxonomy of emotions)?  Would it be a more convincing argument if we tried to support the basic psychological needs (from Self Determination theory) of relatedness, autonomy, and competence?  Perhaps adding meaning/curiosity?  My gut tells me that some amount of nuance needs to be added to the word “happiness” to make it more face valid to the general public and that there is room for improvement from calling it “subjective well being”.

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