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KCTS 9 Connects

Measuring Happiness in Seattle - February 25, 2011

February 26, 2011

In Victoria, BC, the city measures the happiness of its residents, and it’s not just for fun. City leaders use the Happiness Index to help form public policy. Now there’s an effort to measure Seattle’s happiness. In this episode of "KCTS 9 Connects," we wonder – is it possible to measure happiness? And we see how an idea that started in the small country of Bhutan is catching on around the world.

Producer's Notes

Producer's Notes

Pursuing Happiness

Nathaniel Hawthorne called happiness a butterfly always beyond our grasp. Mark Twain called it a Swedish sunset, there for all to see, but most look away. Einstein said all he needed to be happy was a table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin. John Lennon called it a warm gun, a likely metaphor for heroin.

Just the variation in those descriptions demonstrates the difficulty in defining happiness. The dictionary takes this stab at it:

hap-pin-ness (hap-ee-nis) –noun 1. the quality or state of being happy. 2. good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy.

On a purely physical level, happiness is pretty easy to define. You only have to ask yourself, “Does it feel good?” But physical happiness is fleeting. You experience it – when you eat a great meal or exchange a passionate kiss, for instance -- then it goes away. It’s the exact opposite of pain. Like stubbing your toe, except it feels good.

On a larger level, though, happiness is more difficult to pin down. It implies an overall satisfaction. Maybe you find it in your job, or spending time with your family, or through your faith. It’s different for everyone, and there’s no right or wrong answer.

So when Sustainable Seattle launched a new Happiness Initiative, we were intrigued. The goal is to determine Seattle’s “well-being,” and then engage local policy makers around the findings.

So how do you measure “happiness?” The organization uses a survey that rates factors such as physical health, free time, connection to community, education, and psychological well-being.

They’re already measuring happiness and using the results in Victoria, BC. The movement actually started in Bhutan, where the government cares more about its Gross National Happiness than about its Gross Domestic Product.

At a time when Seattle Police are under fire for allegations of excessive force; when looming budget cuts have everyone worrying about their jobs, education and healthcare; when the strong-headed Mayor of Seattle can’t stop fighting with the City Council and Governor over the Alaskan Way Viaduct -- you might think we have more important things to talk about on "KCTS 9 Connects" than “happiness.”

But consider this. Maybe, given all of those things, a little more happiness is exactly what we need right now.

Ethan Morris