David Cameron’s Happiness Index has most people puzzled.
How can we measure happiness? Surely, we aren’t put onto this earth to be happy, we protestants cry? Surely, happiness means different things to different people? Surely, happiness is like a shadow – seen but essentially ephemeral?
Begin the science of happiness with poetry
All the usual objections are valid and in a strange way illustrate what we mean by happiness. Khalil Gibran explains in the The Prophet.
“Then a Woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.
And he answered.
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is the lute that soothers your spirit the very wood that was hallowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall in the truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say , “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Together they come, and when one sits with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep in your bed.
Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.
Only when you are empty are you at a standstill and balanced.
When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weight his gold and silver, needs must your joy or sorrow rise and fall.”
Khalil Gibran and The Happiness Index
Indeed, we can cannot measure happiness. But, we can measure the fullness of our emotional involvement with the world.
Indeed governments do not create happiness. But, they do influence conditions that enrich or narrow our lives.
And remember, rich men too have narrow lives. How much can we enjoy life when we are daily separated by car windows and personal assistants who keep us away from the people sharing our streets and the mysteries of unmatched socks?
A happy country is a country where we weep when others weep and smile when others smile.
A happy country is a country where winners celebrate losers because without willing losers, there is no race to win.
In a happy country delight leads to compassion, surprise leads to curiosity and our days are balanced between strangers and intimates.
Measure the size of our cup carved from joy and sorrow.
The happiness index is possible, but first we need to look to poetry to understand what we are trying to put into numbers.