Is National Well Being a Valid Policy Objective?

The notion of linking government policy with citizen happiness and well being is controversial. There remains some concern about the lack of precision in the measurement. The “methods of defining and quantifying happiness differ among researchers, and have yet to become as objective as those used for income or GDP (Bales, 2016)”
Government policy affects citizens on an aggregate level while notions of happiness and well being are more individualistic. The ability for government to improve overall “national happiness” could be constrained by the psychology of well being. Nevertheless, patterns are emerging that align national and personal well being.

What is the pattern of happiness and well being used in public policy?

There are numerous indicators used to measure happiness and well being such as the World Happiness Index, the Happy Planet Index and Gross National Happiness. This includes:
Well Being Concepts

  • Governance: good governance with effective public services by government across national, regional and local tiers
  • Social: social connections to people, family and community with health and education services and social safety nets
  • Cultural: spiritual, religious and cultural richness and norms
  • Economic: income, careers, growth, and economic equity
  • Environmental: environmental concerns including elements of public spaces, pollution, climate change, and energy usage
  • Personal: personal happiness, health, well being, autonomy and intellectual growth

What are the indicators of national happiness?

World Happiness Index
World Happiness Index 2
The World Happiness Index includes:

  • Governance: Corruption Perception
  • Social: Social Support, Life Expectancy
  • Cultural: Generosity
  • Economic: GDP per Capita
  • Personal: Freedom of Life Choices

Happy Planet Index
Happy Planet
The Happy Planet Index includes:

  • Governance: Justice
  • Social: Health
  • Environmental: Ecological Footprint

Gross National Happiness
Gross National Happiness Pillars

  • Governance: Good Governance
  • Social & Economic: Sustainable and Equitable Socio-Economic Development
  • Cultural: Promotion and Preservation of Culture
  • Environmental: Environmental Preservation

World Happiness Summit
Happiness Summit

  • Social: social and physical
  • Cultural: community
  • Economic: financial
  • Personal: purpose and mindfulness

National Well Being
These happiness and well being concepts are consistent with the standard PEST and PESTLE analysis used in planning. It differs with only the “T” – “technology” missing in the happiness indices. The “cultural” concepts in happiness indices are implicit in the social category of PESTLE. Personal happiness concepts could be considered to be part of the social category.
PESTLE Concepts

  • Governance: Political and Legal
  • Social: Social
  • Economic: Economic
  • Environmental: Environmental

FreeBalance has adapted PESTLE to be more consistent with government planning. This adaptation includes the effects of digital technologies and the combination of social and cultural..
FreeBalance PESTLE

  • Governance: Political and Governance
  • Economic: Macro-Economic
  • Social & Cultural: Socio-Cultural
  • Environmental: Environmental Sustainability
  • Technology: Digital Transformation

The alignment of happiness and well being concepts with standard planning tools like PESTLE indicates that there is some validity with the approach. It could be possible that happiness concepts could provide more focus than PESTLE for policy planning.

What are the indicators of personal well being?

Many observers suggest that governments are unable to directly “ instill happiness directly into a person’s heart. (De Vos, 2012)” There is consistency among personal well being concepts and alignment with happiness indices.
Personal Wellbeing

  • Social: social well being and physical health
  • Cultural: spiritual concerns and purpose in life
  • Economic: career and occupation
  • Personal: emotional and intellectual

The concepts of personal and national well being can be integrated into well-understood planning methods like PESTLE. This means that happiness and well being are valid concepts in public policy. The difference between public policy using happiness and public policy using PESTLE is emphasis. The consideration of social and cultural outcomes in happiness indices could provide more focus than PESTLE.


Baer, R. Mindfulness and Six Key Elements of Psychological Well-being. Web Psychology, 2014.
Bales, S. Happiness Matters: Measuring Happiness to Inform Government Policy. Prospect Journal of International Affairs, November 15, 2016.
De Vos, M. Saving Happiness from Politics. National Affairs, Winter 2012.
Helter, W. The Six Dimensions of Wellness. National Wellness Institute.
Rath, T; Harter, J. The Five Essential Elements of Wellbeing. Gallup, May 4, 2010.
Sze, D. Scientists Define the 6 Criteria of Well-Being. Huffington Post, June 8, 2015.


Gross National Happiness:
Happy Planet Index:
World Happiness Index:
World Happiness Summit:


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