01/11/2011 13:41 GMT | Updated 01/01/2012 05:12 GMT

Official Happiness Will not Feature Family - Why?

The government has finally published its proposals to measure how happy we are, but somewhere along the road they lost the notion of 'family'?

Yesterday the Office of National Statistics (ONS) published its latest consultation document, to measure the level of happiness in the UK.

The first index was developed in Bhutan in the 1970s to replace GDP data and is why tourism is kept to a minimum there - the index suggested it makes the inhabitants unhappy. Thailand also has a measure that rates the country from 1-10 and has lurched around as the country neared civil war.

We have none of those problems in the UK. Instead, the ONS has produced a document for consultation, "Measuring National Well-being - Discussion paper on domains and measures" and is exactly what you might expect from a Whitehall department - wordy and labyrinthine but is striking more for what it omits than what it aims to take account of.

For example, the word 'family' can be found only 5 times amongst its 34 pages. The world 'Children' fares better at 44 times, until you realise that the words 'Children, Schools and Families' runs across the bottom of every page.

None of the questions listed explores the happiness a person can derive from family beyond the interviewee's significant other. Some questions explore the obvious (Do you like your job? Is there crime?), some perhaps not so obvious (whether you volunteer - volunteering makes you happier), but it is largely a money-centric notion of happiness.

This is puzzling because we know from the work of Nobel laureate economist Daniel Kahneman that money is important, but only up to a point. Beyond a certain amount, money brings diminishing returns on your happiness.

Various sources suggest that most people would be happiest with a salary of £38,00-£40,000. This is more than 50% over the average UK salary of £25,000, so on purely financial terms, as a nation we must be less happy than they would like to be.

Some evidence suggests that the influence of children may be neutral - somewhat negative initially with the pressure of newborns and lack of sleep, slipping into positive as they grow.

That doesn't match my experience, which is definitely positive overall, despite the constantly interrupted sleep. In fact, my kids are the things that can transform a terrible day into a marvellous one, but I'm not sure why the ONS won't measure this.

But the family is wider than children - parents, brothers sisters, uncles - are they all irrelevant?

Whatever happens, the boffins at the ONS will take these data, put them through a cruncher and come out with a number to gauge our overall happiness, or sets of numbers to show our satisfaction in certain areas.

My guess is that the numbers will be largely meaningless but will fluctuate from year to year and allow us to compare happiness in Cardiff to happiness in Carlisle.

Why? Partly so we can exclaim that we are more or less 'happy' than last year, and point to the government to blame or congratulate.

Now, back to happy families.