‘Well-Being Index’ fails to gauge happiness

President Obama just can’t seem to decide whether he’s an optimist or a pessimist. His public speeches and discussions swing wildly from doom and gloom to hope and light; depending, it seems, on his political agenda. However, if the new president decides in the future to don his Pollyanna hat, he will find support in a new “happiness index” making the rounds of congressional districts across the country.

This new index, labeled a “Well-Being Index” by the organization that created it — Healthways — is but the latest feel-good elixir about which citizens and elected officials can bloviate and help mask the need to take tough and fundamental decisions about the future of our country.

It is far easier for members of Congress to pat themselves on the back for having a “happy district,” than it is, for example, to vote to cut pork barrel spending for their district (which may make constituents “unhappy”).

Healthways touts its index as a new way to “hold every leader, whether elected or appointed, accountable.” Already, those congressional “leaders” whose districts received a favorable happiness score have taken the bait and lauded the Healthways figures, as if they actually meant something. In fact, I suspect few if any of those members of Congress have examined the methodology behind the survey in order to understand precisely what they are praising.

The process whereby the Well-Being Index is calculated is based not on a formula unique to America’s society. It is instead an arbitrary formula for calculating the “state of well-being” of people around the world developed by the United Nations’ World Health Organization. If calling 1,000 people each day and asking them a series of canned questions could reveal the true state of a district’s or a country’s “well-being,” government programs could simply be tailored to address statistical results and — presto! — everything would be hunky dory.

Some of the questions posed in the survey are truly humorous. For example, respondents are asked whether they “experienced happiness” the preceding day. A goal of asking such questions and compiling the aggregate results will, according to Healthways, help reveal “one’s present life situation with one’s anticipated life situation five years from now.” Hallelujah — a “Five-Year Happiness Plan!”

Smoking is a negative, of course, but “daily energy” and one’s “weekly consumption of fruits and vegetables” are positives. (No mention of the joy of an occasional milkshake.) For those of us who find pleasure in the politically incorrect act of smoking a good cigar every now and then, apparently we would be doomed to being considered unhappy. Or perhaps we mellow cigar smokers would be classified as an anomaly and disregarded.
“Obesity” is another negative, as is the act of not “feeling well rested.” I enjoy a good night’s sleep as much as the next guy; but the fact I may have stayed up too late writing an article or working on a law client’s case, could kick me into the unhappy category, despite the ultimate satisfaction I might experience from having spent those hours achieving a positive result.

Having served a number of years in elective and appointed office, and knowing that not everyone treats you with respect in those capacities (sometimes, for good reason), my happiness score apparently would be reduced because “being treated with respect” is an index of well-being.

If a state or a congressional district wishes to boost its happiness score, its government “leaders” might want to mandate regular visits to the dentist, bearing in mind that Healthways believes such actions are yet another sign of a happy people.

Finally, I suppose if Obama gets his way and we have government-mandated universal health care insurance, our nation’s happiness rating will skyrocket. After all, Healthways — which, by the way, has a stake in that battle as a provider of health insurance — has decided that this, too, brings “happiness.”

9 comments Add your comment

Eleanor Rigby

March 18th, 2009
9:41 am

What, now the government is responsible for our happiness? What a crock. Who comes up with this mess?


March 18th, 2009
12:10 pm

You are not guranteed to be happy it is a choice.


March 18th, 2009
12:21 pm

I read an article about this in the AJC last week. The spin in that article was that rich people are happier than poor people. Without questioning the methodology our hometown paper wanted us to know that our rich neighbors are yukking it up while we suffer through the recession. No surprises there. Just good, old fashioned class warfare.

Jack Franklin

March 18th, 2009
1:13 pm

No one really cares what Bob Barr thinks. His space should be filled with someone’s comment who’s not a failed windbag.

Dave R

March 18th, 2009
3:45 pm

Don’t worry . . . Be Happy!

Just channeling a little Bobby McFerrin this afternoon . . .


March 18th, 2009
5:46 pm

Finally, the time has arrived to fix Americas Healthcare crisis, and Americas healthcare knightmare. Hundreds of thousands of you are killed needlessly every year by your healthcare delivery system in a rush to profit. And because of a rush to profit Hundreds of thousands more of you are needlessly dying from treatable illness that people in other developed and civilized countries don’t DIE! from. Rich, middle class, and poor alike. Insured, and uninsured. Men, women, children, and babies.

Additionally, thousands more of you are driven into financial ruin, and bankruptcy just because you, or one of your loved ones got sick or injured. And all of this is happening at a time when America spends twice as much of it’s GDP (Gross Domestic Productivity) on health care than any other country in the developed world. Individual Americans spend about ten times as much on health care as any other people in the developed world. This is a CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY. AND IT MUST END!

But before we can truly fix this healthcare crisis and disgrace, everyone needs to clearly understand what the problem is. And everyone needs to clearly understand the real enormity of the problem. The problem is that HEALTHCARE AND MEDICAL DELIVERY IN AMERICA IS SEVERELY CORRUPTED AND COMPROMISED BY GREED! AND THE PRIVATE FOR PROFIT MOTIVE. And it is corrupted, and compromised IN EVERY ASPECT, AND EVERY PLACE OF HEALTHCARE AND MEDICAL DELIVERY. Unfortunately for all Americans, compromised healthcare ALWAYS results in needless suffering, injury, disability, and or death. Which is exactly what is happening now in America in shocking numbers.

Health care is NOT! a private for profit business. Healthcare is an essential public service. Like police, and fire. And healthcare is also a human right! PRIVATE FOR PROFIT HEALTHCARE IS AN OXYMORON, AND AN IMMORAL AND UNETHICAL PERVERSION OF HEALTHCARE AND HUMAN RIGHTS.

So how do we fix this healthcare disgrace? I believe the fix for Americas healthcare disaster is essentially the same thing that every other developed country in the World has essentially done. “NOT FOR PROFIT, TAX PAYER SUPPORTED, SINGLE PAYER, AUTOMATIC, FREE UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE FOR ALL. Essentially HR676 (enhanced, and expanded medicare for all). Just like every other CIVILIZED! country in the developed World has. There is no other way to truly fix and reform our current disastrous healthcare delivery system.

All Universal health care systems work best when everyone participates. But I know that the healthcare lobby, and some politicians will try and undermine “Not For Profit, Tax payer supported, Single payer, Automatic, Free Universal Healthcare for all” by falsely claiming that it will limit your choice, and require you to participate.

So, I propose that everyone be included in the national plan unless they choose to opt out. If you opt out and need medical care the national plan will insure your provider that they will be reimbursed under the rules for members in the national plan. But those who opted out, and their insurer will be responsible for the FULL! cost to the national plan for providing your care if you or your private insurer fails to reimburse the provider or the national plan in a timely manor to at least the standards of the national plan.

Including reporting you to credit agencies, withholding of taxes, leans, and garnishment of wages for unpaid medical bills. Just like you have now under private for profit healthcare, and private for profit health insurance.

Further, people who opted out will be required to provide proof of financial responsibility for future illness or be required to participate in the national plan. And everyone with children will be required to participate in the national plan. Or provide proof of insurance coverage on each child to the standards of the national plan. It will be against the law to report anyone in the national plan to a credit agency for unpaid medical bills.

Frankly, only a dope would want to opt out of the national plan and opt to keep our current disastrous private for profit medical, and insurance plans. But they will be free to choose. The most important thing is that the vast majority of Americans that want the protection, benefits, and higher quality of a universal national plan have that choice.

You see, one of the most important aspects of a universal healthcare system is easy access, and patient protection. This is accomplished by having a single payer without a conflict of interest in patient care. And by having a payer who has the power to enforce minimum standards of excellence in healthcare delivery for everyone in the plan. This is much of what Medicare does now for senors. “Aeger Primo” (The patient first). Unfortunately in our healthcare system the patient comes last. We are just a peace of meat to them. Cash cows to be slaughtered for profit.

So this is IT! my fellow Americans, My fellow human beings, My fellow World Citizens. And my fellow Cyber Warriors. :-) The time has come. D day. H hour. HEALTHCARE REFORM THIS YEAR! Let no one stand in our way. Contact your representative and tell them you want “Not For Profit, Tax Payer Supported, Single Payer, Automatic, Free Universal healthcare for all. And tell them you want that choice now. Tell them you want President Obama’s budget passed without delay. President Obama’s budget is brilliant. And exactly what is needed now.

President Obama, and his allies will need all the support you can give them. The healthcare lobby will try to take out his people if they can, like they did with Tom Daschle and Nancy Killefer. And they will try to neutralize President Obama’s popularity, and political power. Or they will try to take him down someway. Don’t stand for it. If they attack him. Go after them ten times harder and remove them from office. We had an election. And you the people chose President Obama’s leadership, and change agenda. Let no one in government disrespect the will of the American people and remain in office.

To President Obama, his Cabinet, the Congress of the United States, and the Supreme Court. I have noticed for some time a disturbing tendency for key members of your bodies to come down with illness, or medical problems at critical legislative times. This may just be coincidence. But I can tell you that there are a million subtle ways to medically injure someone just by doing nothing when something needs to be done. Or by doing things to someone when nothing needs to be done except to give them reassurance. I know for a fact that there are those that would have no qualms about hurting any of you to preserve our current disgraceful medical status quo.

So, I recommend as a matter of national security that you enlist the help of a friendly power to regularly review, and oversee the medical care you receive from your local regular healthcare providers. Briton, France and many other countries have excellent medical providers. As well as Canada. Briton, and Canada may be less of a language barrier for Americans.

Let’s get this healthcare reform done now my fellow Americans. This year. Take no prisoners.

God Bless All Of You

Jack Smith — Working Class :-)


Michael Powers

March 23rd, 2009
1:36 pm

Mr. Smith, there is unfortunately, one gaping oversight in your argument. The fact remains that the current “greedy / for profit” system is equally balanced by the competitive drive to provide better care. Now that the government is itself a huge, greedy, for-profit business itself, giving it full reign over healthcare would instantaneously turn the healthcare system into a greedy, for-profit monopoly. The government can’t even compete in the mail delivery sector; what makes you think the government could handle healthcare? It’s an absolute joke! Obama is already talking about not covering combat wounds to save the government money. THAT is government healthcare for you. here is a letter from a danish man concerning their socialized medicine system:

Better? No choice you mean.

First setting this straight: social healthcare shouldn’t be paid by the sales taxes, but by our forced health insurance which is also some kind of tax if it’s forced. If you don’t pay it the police comes for you.

About the quality: I can’t believe any Dutchman like me still goes to Dutch healthcare. Sure, it costs a little, but in the surrounding countries you at least have choice and quality.

Know that we do not have permission to just enter a hospital here, we first have to get permission from the doctor we’re assigned to. Assignments are based on the area you live, and you can very well be assigned to a doctor that mistakes a heart failing for stress, or one that refuses to give you permission to visit a hospital for checking until its too late.

Then there’s the problem of waiting lists – with the government having the healthcare in hands there’s no need of competition, and even with critical problems that require immediate attention (like cancer, or even brain/heart injuries) they’ll gladly let you wait for a month. The mistakes made in healthcare are plentiful – I can’t count the victims of such mistakes made on relatives in the past ten years on one hand anymore. Some of which ended in a fatality while the problem was something that never should’ve caused that (appendicitis, refusing to look or operate in hospital until it bursted open – but you don’t have any chance or choice to go elsewhere).

Also know that the USA *health insurances* aren’t higher than here! Healthcare quality definitely is though, both in skill, technology and friendliness. Yes, they actually treat you as a customer instead of acting like a superior. At least, they did when I injured myself on a trip to New York. And you can even choose wether you want insurance or not, unlike here, where we’re forced to pay insurance and don’t even have a choice in where to go to. Now, for the quality we get we’re paying way too much money IMO. And you’re suggesting now that taxes are also going to healthcare, apart from the forced ‘insurance’ money. I sure hope this is not the case.

If you really believe our healthcare is good, so be it. But I can’t stress enough to go elsewhere for something as imporant as your well being. Belgium is much better already and they’ll accept people without government/doctor permission. Getting to know the right people also helps. Sure, it may cost money, but it’s a small price to pay for choice, especially if it’s about your life. Just to illustrate the difference: a full cardiac (heart) research with echoes and a week of recording (device) costs about $120 in Belgium, so yeah, that is very manageable. That’s what saying ‘hi’ to the doctor would cost here. They can afford it due to the monopoly and no one objects because it’s automatically paid by the forced ‘insurance’. God I sure hope it isn’t so rotten already that there is tax money going towards it on top of what’s already paid by the forced insurance.

So, to you USA people: Be very, VERY wary about government influences. More intervention is definitely needed in the current crisis, but after it, they have to go back to controlling only the necessary again unless you like the idea of losing basic rights like choosing a doctor/hospital yourself. Also note that takes here near the 70% of your income: 40-60% wage tax (depending on how much you earn, independents/undertakers) pay full), 19% VAT/sales tax on all non-food products you buy, property taxes, car taxes, forced insurances, damn… it might even be more. And what do you get back for it? One of the lowest quality education systems in the western world, health care that chooses for you and isn’t too good either, city security that utterly fails in every way possible… No, where I live it’s everyone for himself. The only difference with 2nd world countries is that you spent 70% on tax while getting no more. Perhaps even less, I have an extremely good experience with East European doctors, and in those countries you’re allowed to arm yourself to keep yourself safe. Not that there’s any control on the weapon law where I live (unfortunately).

At least I can now choose my insurance since two years instead of being stuck with the back then forced ‘freelancer/independent/undertaker’ insurance (if I had a normal job I would have gotten the cheap job insurance before). So now I at least also have an insurance that covers my dentist (like the job insurance) and it costs way less too.

“Nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud, is the only maxim which can ever preserve the liberties of any people.” – John Adams

Michael Powers

March 23rd, 2009
1:43 pm

… The Adams quote I added

Check Your Facts

March 27th, 2009
4:30 pm

You’ve got it wrong – the well being index isn’t just about ‘happiness’ it’s truly about overall well-being. The survey indicates if people are thriving, merely surviving or if they are struggling, and how they are dealing with their situation. This isn’t just a happiness meter, it is a combined measure of physical, mental, social and emotional factors that make up total well being. And another fact you have incorrect – Healthways is not a provider of insurance, they are a company that provides disease management and healthy lifestyle programs and coaching.