Here’s a free pick up line: despite over half a century of economic growth the UK population is no happier now than it was in the 1950s. Even if it doesn’t get you a new partner, it usually piques people’s attention.

Environmentalists should take particular note as the statement implies the following: we have been systematically destroying the world for future generations for absolutely no pay-off for our own well-being.

Try the line for yourself but, be warned, your prospective lover may protest, most commonly, that ‘you can’t measure happiness’. However, despite the simplicity of the measures used (eg asking ‘on a scale of 1-10 how satisfied do you feel with your life overall’) the result is highly correlated with judgements of that person’s happiness made by their friends and by a panel of psychologists analysing body language and particular brain activation.

Applying happiness research to public policy is an infant subject, though environmentalists should be aware of it. Extensive research shows that once someone’s basic material needs are met, generally more money does not make them happier; instead factors such as our relationships with others and our sense of control of our lives are far more important. This suggests entirely different policies from those currently aimed at maximizing GDP growth, eg encouraging community activities and allowing people to work flexible hours, which come without environmental cost.

Many happiness researchers suggest that the first thing we should do is start measuring national happiness systematically, which would motivate politicians to tackle the happiness stagnation and serve as an alternative measure of progress to GDP. Some policy makers are coming around, including the French president who has commissioned eminent scholars to advise him on the subject. Surprisingly there are even rumblings in the UK – DEFRA has acknowledged the robustness and usefulness of happiness measures; however, this is only a start.

If you want to help out, ask your MP to sign Early Day Motion 731 that calls for measurement of happiness in the UK. Even if your smooth line fails, at least you can impress the object of your desires by telling them you wanted to make them smile so much that you lobbied your Member of Parliament.

Peter Kunzmann

Centre for Life Satisfaction