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Parks, libraries, swimming pools, coffee contribute to Brit happiness

March 29, 2011 - London

A survey on what really makes the Britons happy has found that some feel parks, libraries, swimming pools, and the smell of coffee can boost their happiness.

Ministers last year asked the Office for National Statistics to devise new questions for its large household surveys that would assess people's satisfaction with life.

The intention is to come up with a "well-being index" to be published alongside traditional economic indicators.

Early responses published in January suggested that job security, personal health and relationships with family members matter more than anything else in life.

More detailed results from the conferences and focus groups held across Britain, disclosed by the ONS, show that some respondents have grand dreams of a better world while the little things in life make others smile.

Many of the suggestions of things that improve happiness involved public services such as libraries and municipal parks.

One of the comments made in the Measuring National Well-Being Debate states that happiness involves: "Having access to open, green space within walking distance of my home."

Another suggests: "Access to low-cost facilities that enrich life - e.g. libraries, parks, swimming pools."

A third again hints at escape from the pressures of life and work in modern British cities: "Opportunity to laugh, ability to trust, opportunities to recharge my batteries and restore my mental health."

However some respondents to the ONS consultation have also taken it upon themselves to consider what constitutes the good life, a problem that has occupied philosophers since the days of Socrates.

One said: "Happiness is a misnomer. It's much better to be content than happy. Contentment is constant. Happiness is an emotional flick."

Another claimed: "Well-being is more than happiness, it's having the freedom to do things."

Several claimed that satisfaction is dependent on physical health, saying: "As long as you have your health nothing else matters."

But more hard-nosed types insisted: "Unless you have money you don't really have a choice."

Some hinted that Britain must become more just before it can feel good about itself, claiming that "having a fairer society would improve people's well-being" and that people should become "less self-centred".

But others had more practical and down-to-earth suggestions as to how to improve the nation's happiness, such as tackling fuel poverty among pensioners.

One simply stated: "The smell of opening a jar of coffee would certainly contribute to my well-being."

So far, 7,500 people have taken part in the online debate while organisations ranging from universities to primary schools have hosted discussions.

"These events have been both lively and passionate at times. They are a crucial part of the overall programme as we are able to get to the ground roots of what people think," The Telegraph quoted Paul Allin, director of the ONS's measuring national well-being programme, as saying.


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