Analysis: It's about more than instant gratification

In 1968, US president John F Kennedy summed up the problem of gross domestic product (GDP): "It does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play.

It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials," writes Carol Craig.

To this extent, the UK government's decision to employ measures of wellbeing is a positive development. But it will be a retrograde step if wellbeing and happiness become, as they currently are in the press, interchangeable terms and we become a nation obsessed with levels of personal happiness.

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Wellbeing is a composite term. It implies a judicious balance of physical, emotional, social and spiritual health. We intuitively understand that, despite daily discomfort, a mountaineer or charity worker in Africa can have better wellbeing than an affluent celebrity. Philosophers can define happiness in elaborate terms, but the general public understands happiness as being in a good mood. This type of happiness can easily become instant gratification, hedonism and indulging children's whims. Thanks to consumer culture, we've got too much of this already: the last thing we need is for it to be given an added boost from government policy.

What's more, there's evidence to show pursuing happiness backfires: those who make it a goal are less likely to find it.

• Carol Craig is chief executive of the Centre for Confidence and Wellbeing.

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