Measuring Happiness (11/1/2011)

Posted in Critical Failures

A while back, a good fifty years after it started being obvious to most people, the UK Government came to the conclusion that maybe money wasn’t the be-all and end-all of life and declared its intention to start measuring how happy the people it was supposed to be representing actually are as well[1]. The significance of this remains to be seen. Is this the start of the inexorable decline of capitalism and the consequent rise  of the Dalai Lama to absolute authority? Should committed socialists around the world be singing the praises of the Cleggeron (you know you want to, really)? As far as I can tell, though, most of what followed had little to do with ideology and a lot to do with head-scratching and statistics. Along the lines of ‘yes, but how? How the hell do you measure happiness?’

Well, Mr & Mr Cleggeron, I have taken the opportunity of the Christmas break to conduct some field research into the subject. I have conducted an intensive study of a small number of  individuals (or a number of small individuals), and I would like, now, to present my findings. I would like to point out, that this was pro bono work at no expense to the UK taxpayer and has been carried out for its own scientific merit. In particular, great care and attention have been given to the scoring system to provide an accurately representative  final Happiness Quotient (HQ). The scheme is simple: Answer each question in turn. For each question to which the answer is yes, adjust your HQ by the stated amount. Begin at zero (content).

Basic Needs

  • Are you hungry or thirsty? (-2)
  • If so, did you get given food or drink? (+2)
  • Was it cake or ice-cream? (+10)
  • Are you too cold? (-2)
  • Is that because it’s so three degrees above absolute zero outside but despite this you still insist on wearing shorts out there no matter desperately those around you suggest that you should wear a jumper to keep warm? (+20)


  • Are you engaged in a vigorous physical activity of your own choosing? (+5)
  • Does it involve furniture abuse? (+2)
  • Have you just fallen off the sofa and banged your head? (-5)
  • Has someone stopped by to point out that it was entirely your own fault? (-60)

Social Circumstances

  • Are you playing with someone? (+10)
  • No, not the Xbox/Playstation/iPhone/Internet, are you playing with an actual real person? (+5)
  • Does it involve a moderate level of physical violence? (+10)
  • Are you winning? (+10)
  • Are they winning? (-40)
  • If you’re playing Munchkin, are you being allowed to use your +10 Sword of Longness that you drew yourself in crayon and then slipped into your hand when no one was looking? (+500)
  • If you’re playing Dread Pirate, is someone else the Dread Pirate? (-1000)


  • Have you had a present today? (+5)
  • Has someone you know had a present today? (-20)
  • Was your present better than theirs? (+20)
  • If so, have you made absolutely sure they know this? (+10)
  • Was their present better than yours? (-200)
  • If so, were they a sibling? (-1000000000000000000000000000)

In summary: the secret of a happy five-year-old turns out to be plenty of love and social play, occasional sugary treats, a +10 Sword of Longness and a systematic regime of carefully engineered ignorance.

The secret of a happy adult, from casual observation, is often much the same.

[1] Roughly speaking. What they actually said used much longer words and tried to sound like it was some great new idea thing.