Paul Jacob

It’s April Fools’ Day, and who better to celebrate it than our federal governors?

To help us prepare for the holiday, The Washington Post ran an article, last week, headlined, “If you’re happy and you know it . . . let the government know,” in which reporter Peter Whorisky informed readers that “the federal government is seeking ways to measure what some have called gross national happiness.”

Gross national happiness?

It’s sorta like gross national product, only, rather than measuring economic activity in dollars and cents, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has convened a panel of economists, psychologists, and other experts to calculate “the squishy realm of feelings.”

“The phrase ‘pursuit of happiness’ is in the Declaration of Independence,” explains panel member Carol Graham, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of The Pursuit of Happiness: An Economy of Well-Being, “so it’s not a huge stretch to say we might want to measure life satisfaction.”

President Obama has embraced the effort and the chair of his Council of Economic Advisers, Alan Krueger, has long been an advocate for developing a national statistic measuring “the flow of emotional experience during daily activities.”

“The idea of the government tallying personal feelings might seem frivolous — or impossibly difficult,” acknowledges The Post. But the stakes are high.

“If successful, these could become official statistics.”

Just what we need: more government statistics. Are you happier already?

The instrumental value of the effort is pretty clear to people in Washington. After all, how can the federal government effectively micromanage every aspect of our lives without reducing our feelings to numbers?

Remember: without statistics, our rulers would be left with only lies and damn lies.

If you thought pursuing happiness was difficult, just try measuring it. As the Post reporter notes, “It can be cumbersome and costly to track a person’s feelings across a day’s time.” But when has cost ever stopped our leaders in Washington from helping us out?


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.