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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 June 2006, 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK
South: Happiness is MP-shaped
Ian Paul
Ian Paul
The Politics Show, BBC South

The two Davids: Cameron and Davis
The two jolly Davids spread laughter and goodwill

"Spread a little happiness as you go by" - well, it worked for Sting, but could it work for politicians.

Should they even be getting into all this feel-good stuff, or just getting on with making sure we are safe and managing the economy?

"Vote for me and I will make you happy" - who would not? But how could we ever know if they had delivered?

After all, if statistics about concrete things can be made to prove almost anything, think what the Punch and Judy show would be like over intangible things such as how we feel.

Happiness documented

Astonishingly, though, the EU Commission has a massive amount of info on what makes us contented.

From the rather grandly-named European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (based in jolly Eire) you can download a 112-page report that will tell you all you needed to know about levels of satisfaction in all the EU member states.

They even have a happiness scale, with the UK coming out 9th - the Scandinavians turn out to be much more satisfied than the rest of us, with Denmark and Finland taking the top slots.

At least we seem to be happier than the French who clock in at a relatively miserable 17th.

Continentals happier?

But do you really feel happier than a Frenchman? And do you think the government could do anything to make you as happy as a Dane?

Dr Anthony Seldon
Dr Anthony Seldon: Wellington College to introduce happiness classes

Lest you think it all rather esoteric, a little too Continental for the sensible British, take a look at Wellington College in Berkshire.

The new headmaster there, Dr Anthony Seldon, will be introducing happiness classes from next term.

Yes, you did read that aright - a British school is teaching happiness.

"My sense is that young people of course want to make the most of their lives. And of course they also realise, looking around, that money and wealth and success doesn't necessarily make you happy.

"What is it that makes you happy? Do you know what it is?

"It is, in fact, relationships - having good relationships and being valued as a human being and also treating yourself well and not being too hard on yourselves.

"These are things that I think you really can teach and they're certainly worth looking at."

Work life balance

Partly, of course, it is about getting the work-life balance right - or at least better than we seem to have it at the moment.

According to the Office of National Statistics, British men work an average of 45.2 hours a week (women do rather better at 40.7 hours).

But contrast that with Denmark at 39.6 hours on average - no wonder they are happier than we are!

General well being

Having a say in all that is something that politicians definitely want to get involved with.

Conservative leader David Cameron has been making a big thing recently of not just focusing on GDP but GWB - "General well being", in his phrase.

Curiously, it is an idea that has come under attack from both left and right.

From the right, because they argue that politicians should concentrate on wealth creation.

From the left because they believe that tackling child poverty, for instance, is more important than enhancing the feel-good factor.

Happiness acquired?

So what do you think? Can happiness be "taught"?

Is it a politician's job to make you happy or make you wealthy?

Or do we, as the French would have us believe, "Know the cost of everything and the value of nothing" - and maybe it is time our politics did concern themselves a bit more with quality of life rather than being obsessed with "the economy, stupid".

Send us an email and we will put your points to our invited guests.

The Politics Show

Join Peter Henley live from Basingstoke. The Politics Show returns on Sunday 16 July 2006 at 12:00 on BBC One.


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