Last week, PM David Cameron launched a consultation into how the Office of National Statistics should measure individual happiness. Not surprisingly, press reaction ranged from sceptical to hostile – but this sounded like too good a challenge for Figure it Out to pass up.Happiness can be fickle and difficult to measure. We particularly like the advice given by a father to his teenage son: “I never knew the meaning of true happiness until I married your mother … and by then it was too late!” But all good business cases recognise that benefits can be tangible or intangible, measurable or non-measureable. And all good statisticians understand the value of proxy variables – such as the length of skirts in a period of Recession.
Perhaps our proxy variables for measuring happiness can be found in our favourite music – do the most popular songs about “happiness” tell us about what inspires our feelings of contentment? We looked at songs from the UK top 40 charts since they began in the 1950s which feature the word “happy” or “happiness” in the title. There are 98 in total, starting with “Oh Happy Days” by the Johnston Brothers in April 1953 to “Happy” by Leona Lewis in November 2009.
Your intrepid analyst then tracked down the lyrics for each song, and tried to categorise the reason for the “happiness” in the title (it was something to do on the long snow-bound evenings in Edinburgh this week!)
The clear winner was Love and Relationships – with examples such as Michelle Gayle’s “Happy just to be with you”. Next came a group categorised as Peace/ Spirituality including “Happy Christmas, War is Over”, and Friendship (e.g. Sting’s “Spread a Little Happiness”)
According to this, our Happiness Index should have a strong weighting on how we feel about our Relationships combined with a slightly lower weighting on our Spirituality and our Friendships.
Perhaps the most confusing evidence comes from “Heavy Makes you Happy” by Bobby Bloom (January 1971) which begins: “Ahh, whoa–great gosh a mighty… (Sha-na-boom boom, yeah) Say it, y’all”. He may have been talking about McEwan’s Heavy, a popular beer from my youth, but I’m not convinced.
Which leads me to my own personal favourite – “Happiness” by Ken Dodd (July 1964), allowing me to report that his father’s pet labrador recently passed away, resulting in the newspaper headline “Ken Dodd’s Dad’s Dog’s Dead”
May I be the first to wish you a Happy Christmas!