Skip to main content

Government and Happiness, Redux.

February 14th, 2007 | 1 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

A while ago, I linked to this story pointing out that “subjective well being” is increasingly being used as a measuring rod for British policy.

Mere O reader Peregrine commented right away, pointing out that it might be useful. He provides several policies that might fall under the promotion of “subjective well being,” such as requiring that employers provide more employers, raising taxes to sponsor civic beauty projects, etc.

Now the ever humorous and insightful John Schroeder has weighed in, appropriately chastizing me for not linking the video I referenced and offering this pithy blow: “We control our happiness, not the government.”

And here is the problem, I think, with Peregrine’s suggestions. While it may be noble for the government to provide such happiness-inducing rules (have any rules ever induced happines???), it seems problematic that we would have to outsource maintaining for and providing for our happiness to the government. I’m more sympathetic to Peregrine’s suggestion that government’s create aesthetically pleasing public areas, but businesses that don’t make their workers happy will never be as successful as those that do. In fact, the growing trend in business is to provide for worker’s happiness regardless of government mandates (see Google and Best Buy).

As John points out, governments are for primarily for the public good, which sometimes (always?) demands the subordination of private happiness for its attainment (and as Christians, we hold that paradoxically, private happiness is found in just that subordination). John is right: making “subjective well being” the measuring rod gets the order exactly backward.