Alan Dee: Happy? This is what statistics are 7.4

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RIGHT, now we’ve got a definitive answer let’s do something with it, and make that investment worth while.

You’ll probably have seen that the government’s much-hyped happiness project has come up with a conclusion.

The what project? Yes, they stumped up a couple of million quid to take the national pulse, if only to reassure themselves that despite the bleak economic outlook the hoi polloi was unlikely to turn up with a tumbril at the Downing Street gates any time soon.

And the answer, which has obvious echoes with the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’s famous explanation for life, the universe and everything – yes, 42, of course you knew that – is officially 7.4.

That, you will be relieved to know, is on a scale of one to 10 and not a percentage – if it had been, we’d all have been looking forward to a pretty grisly Christmas.

This benchmark figure is based on a survey of just 4,000 people, and I can think of a few grumps, myself included on a bad day, who could have brought that figure crashing down.

But the Office for National Statistics, which has been charged with checking up on how we’re all holding up, says this is just the first step towards measuring national wellbeing and helping future governments base their policies on what makes voters happy.

Next year a large-scale happiness survey of 200,000 is planned, so watch out for someone with a clipboard who wants to know how you’re feeling – for once they might not want to flog you a charity subscription or a timeshare.

But I digress. 7.4. That’s the answer, that’s the figure that says that all things considered, life’s not too bad.

So my suggestion is that we should adopt that figure as a handy shorthand and do away with the customary courtesies that eat into our lives for no good reason.

You know how it goes – you call someone to sort out a business matter, but you have to ask how they are, they have to ask how you are, you both say you’re fine even if one of you has just had a messy break-up and the other is coping with grumbling piles, and then you finally get down to the purpose of the call.

The habit has spread remorselessly to the virtual world – every day I get emails from people I don’t know and don’t care to meet, all of them chirpily interested in my wellbeing. They politely ask how I am and hope I am well, wasting a line of script and five seconds of my life every time.

But it would be so simple to substitute all this false folderol about your health, the weather, plans for the weekend and the like by just simply exchanging the universally understood salutation ‘7.4’.

Of course, you can only say 7.4. If you’re feeling full of beans you don’t proudly boast you’re an 8.6 and if you got out of bed on the wrong side you don’t carefully calculate that today you’re down around the 5.2 mark – the other person doesn’t care, and coming up with a bespoke rating only forces them to ask why your personal rating is so far removed from the norm.

So let’s all try it. Let’s out the meaningless mealy-mouthed manoeuvrings and cut to the chase. 7.4, everyone. Now let’s get down to business...