Our Opinion: Is happiness a federal issue?
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
“Happiness is finding a pencil./Pizza with sausage./Telling the time.”
Lyrics for “Happiness is” from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
The “Peanuts” gang may have definite ideas about what happiness is, but does government?
A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences advises the federal government to survey its citizens to measure their happiness.
Is a “happiness index” a worthwhile government function?
The academy — a panel of economists, psychologists and other experts — thinks so.
Chairman Arthur Stone, a psychology professor at New York’s Stony Brook University, references the “misery index,” an economic gauge of unemployment and inflation rates. He said a more accurate assessment of misery also would include the question: “How much suffering is going on?”
The panel suggests that although government may be adept at compiling statistics and data, it is less in touch with human feelings and emotions.
A suggested survey of happiness might ask us how often we smiled, were stressed, laughed or suffered pain.
Similar surveys exist, including those conducted at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. John Helliwell, an economist at the institution, said the United States ranked 17th — behind Denmark and other European countries, Canada, Israel and Mexico — in an international survey released in September.
And, according to another song lyric, the notion that “money can’t buy happiness” apparently is on target.
Carol Graham, an author and economist at the Brookings Institute, said research shows that after people make “a comfortable amount of money,” wealth doesn’t translate into happiness.
The case can be made that governments — on federal, state and local levels — do much to address happiness, indirectly, if not directly.
A sampling includes: Social Security for retirees; social services for people in need; health and mental health services; public safety programs and quality-of-life initiatives (conservation, parks, historic preservation).
We believe government should avoid spending time, energy and money analyzing situations it does not intend to do anything about.
We certainly do not envision a U.S. Department of Happiness being able to efficiently and effectively improve public happiness.
Happiness, largely, is a feeling generated from within and nourished by a positive and grateful attitude.
On this issue, the “Peanuts” gang has more to tell us than the federal government.
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