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What matters to people... national results in
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published the results of its nationwide investigation into what matters to people for their well-being. The project was launched last year after the UK government requested that the ONS start measuring the nation's well-being alongside traditional economic measures such as GDP.
From Nov 2010 to April this year, the ONS surveyed 5401 people, asking them to indicate, from a set list of items, what mattered to them. This part of the programme is focused on what the ONS termed 'objective well-being'. Results here showed that 89 per cent agreed that health was important; the same proportion recognised relationships; 86 per cent ticked job satisfaction or economic security; and 73 per cent highlighted the importance of the environment.
Based on feedback, the ONS drafted a second modified version of the questionnaire. A further 2206 respondents recorded similar answers although relationships was now the most highly selected item.
Other questions were: 'What should measures of national well-being be used for?' and 'How should measures of national well-being be presented?' Further open-ended feedback on what matters to people was gathered at 175 events at which the ONS spoke to over 7000 people. Their comments can be accessed at tinyurl.com/3vgqpam (pdf). The report cautions that 'It was not a statistical exercise and so the findings are not necessarily representative of the UK population as a whole.'
National Statistician Jil Matheson said: 'This not just about holding a debate, it is about finding robust ways to measure how society is doing, to complement GDP and other measures of economic growth. As we work up measures of national well-being and progress, we will continue to share our ideas. It is essential that the set of measures of well-being is relevant and well based in what matters to people, both as individuals and for the UK as a whole.'
For the measurement of subjective well-being, or how people feel, new documents published by the ONS reveal they've drawn largely on recommendations made by the economists Paul Dolan and Lord Richard Layard (both at LSE), Robert Metcalfe
(at the University of Oxford), and the psychologist Felicia Huppert (Cambridge University). Further psychological input came from Peter Kinderman, Chair of the BPS Division of Clinical Psychology, and Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, both of whom were members of the Measuring National Well-being Technical Advisory Group; and from Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel-winning psychologist, who was on the Measuring National Well-being Advisory Forum.
Based on this advice, the ONS compiled four experimental questions designed to tap evaluative, experience and eudemonic aspects of subject well-being: 'Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays? Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday? Overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday? Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?' These questions were added to the ONS household surveys (completed by approximately 200,000 people) and its monthly opinions survey from April this year, with initial annual results due in July 2012. Later this year there are also plans to use the monthly opinions survey to test questions about people's views of their community, including issues related to trust and belonging. The ONS is also looking at the way questions are delivered (e.g. interview vs. self-completion).
The Psychologist asked Emeritus Professor Peter Warr, a happiness researcher at Sheffield University's Institute of Work Psychology, what he thinks of the ONS well-being programme so far. He told us that 'it's definitely moving in the right direction. The so-called "national debate" about the sources of well-being ("what matters to you") produced findings that won't surprise psychologists working in this area, but the process of involving the public no doubt helped to increase awareness and may also have boosted commitment.'
Warr is pleased that the experimental measures of subjective well-being include personal meaningfulness, in addition to positive and negative feelings that are activated ('happy' and 'anxious'), as well as a question about being merely 'satisfied'. 'But it's puzzling,' he said, 'that different time-frames are used for different questions - "nowadays", "yesterday" and an unspecified duration. That means that the items can't properly be aggregated as well as treated separately.'
'There's always a problem that subsamples within a large group, as in "national" well-being, can differ widely between each other, so that an overall figure can't represent every sub-group or region,' he added. 'Of course, that's also the case for an economic index like GDP, which is nevertheless widely cited and discussed. And it's far from clear how well-being scores can be used to adjust national policies, but it's certainly worth trying. In terms of research and knowledge, the provision of nationwide data (linked to demographic and other variables) will be enormously valuable.'
- For the full list of ONS well-being documents, see: www.ons.gov.uk/well-being. The NE of England Branch of the BPS is holding its annual conference on 21 October in York on the topic of Work, Life, Happiness and Deviance.
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