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.”