Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Spare me from Whitehall's well-being committee

The pursuit of happiness is itself an invitation to perpetual unhappiness

Share
Related Topics

January is the bitterest month, bringing vast bills, dull climes, expanded girths, formless fears about the future, broken or blocked drains, colds and coughs, dead gardens, a fog of envy as others inevitably do better, stupid, unnecessary rows and much worse. So it is good to know that we now have a heap of devoted civil servants working to increase the nation's quotient of happiness. The Whitehall Well-being Working Group (W3G) is seeking innovative ways to make citizens of these isles feel less grumpy and more cheerful.

A report written for this jovial W3G by Paul Dolan, professor of economics at the Imperial College, who aims to quantify a reliable unit of joy, has come up with a list of what makes us light-up - long marriages and lots of sex, apparently, walks, gardening and gossiping over your fence with a friendly neighbour. Oh, and divorce and grey rain make us sad.

I have a few good ideas of my own. Millions of us would experience a rush of real pleasure if the PM were to humbly apologise for his deceptions, immoral war and general corruption he has brought into politics. Such a confession might make us feel less soiled as a nation. Even more of us would be thrilled to bits to have greedy business vultures, overpaid company directors and City billionaires denied offshore tax chests where they hide their loot so they don't have to pay their dues to this country.

Well-being in many localities would shoot up if bars and clubs refused to tank customers up to excess.Then there is that dreadful menace: gigantic trucks day and night on our roads (outside my flat as it happens). And our pain is nothing compared with those who live near airports and now have several times as many flights jetting past them. A local hospital that does what it says on the label or decent schools would transform the pessimism of countless citizens.

A recent YouGov poll showed Britons caught in a web of confused feelings. Sixty-three per cent of Britons seem to feel good about their lives - we are, after all, richer than ever before, even the poorest among us. Yet, only 7 per cent said it had been a good year for the country. They detest the environment, the society, the country as it has changed. Respondents also said they were depressed by the lack of probity and honesty in public life.

It would be a waste of time bringing these to the attention of W3G, which is apparently not concerned about big policies and politics that run down personal optimism. Failure, thereby, is already stamped on this pathetic endeavour.

The pursuit of happiness is itself an invitation to perpetual unhappiness, that too is a lesson this earnest body will have to humbly accept at the end of their fruitless quest. How many times have you been to a fab restaurant, candles on the table, champagne in the bucket, dressed to the nines, marking some birthday or anniversary, when you feel you have to muster up this inner buzz and there is only gloom roaming in your heart?

This weekend I was on a Tube next to two red-eyed, exhausted Africans with those huge zipped-up plastic bags. I surmised they were poor exiles from their homelands, selling cheap things on streets, as they do now all around Europe, because they have to, to keep themselves and their families alive. What they go through, how they are despised. I felt my mood fall into despair for them. And then this old white couple started chatting to them, just naturally, without excessive curiosity. By the time we reached Hammersmith the men were grinning. Then one got up and gave the couple a wooden giraffe: "For Christmas, bit late, I know. God bless you." The whole carriage, for 10 minutes, was infused with warmth.

A friend gave my daughter Danny Wallace's Random Acts of Kindness which contains suggestions on how to do exactly that. Buy chocolate and give it to the vendor to eat, that kind of thing. My young girl finds the book such a delight. It connects her to strangers; it animates the politics of justice and makes her into a social being. Living in a full society, my child is seeking the good society gone missing.

Thatcher started it and Blair has taken the baton, dashing to promote greater private wealth. Neither has taken responsibility for the damage of limitless acquisition on the environment, on shared values and care, the social space and collective spirit, the essence of humanity. A hundred Gucci handbags are no comfort when your son is beaten up outside his expensive school or when your inner self is breaking.

Politicians, bureaucrats and misguided academics distracted by this latest mindless New Labour initiative have deepened the January blues - or, in their jargon, lowered my GWB (measurable general well-being). Yours too?

y.alibhai-brown@yahoo.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little