I had this article in The Independent magazine on Saturday, offering some explanations for the turn towards happiness, as an object of statistics and government. It mainly summarises things I've written elsewhere in openDemocracy and The New Left Review. The piece concludes:
So much technocratic interest in our minds, brains and selves may sound frightful. In 1816, Samuel Coleridge accused utilitarian philosophers of recognising "no duties which it could not reduce into debtor and creditor accounts on the ledgers of self-love". But the science of happiness may have a more culturally transformative role: as we now know all too well, British living standards are going into reverse, at least for the next five years – and who knows what will happen after that? If GDP growth represents national 'progress', then this nation has stopped moving.
This poses crucial questions about how best to exploit a shrinking supply of income, jobs and public spending – which research on happiness can help answer. The same pound can have very different psychological pay-offs. As [Geoff] Mulgan explains: "The less money there is to go around the more important it is that each pound achieves the greatest possible effect, and some of the policies that would have the biggest impact on happiness won't actually cost much...".
But economic stagnation also poses serious philosophical questions about how else we can imagine our society's direction of travel, once the assumption of economic growth no longer holds. Modern societies need a sense that the future will be better than the past. If capitalism can no longer make such a promise, then forms of non-economic growth might have to. The ONS's figure of '7.4' could be the start of a whole new approach to social and economic change.