Saturday, March 03, 2012

Measuring happiness & pain

The fact that the Nation scores more than 7 out of 10 for happiness, despite the current difficulties, did not, I understand, come as a surprise to the experts in this subject.

I found myself thinking about pain scores; those involved in treating those in serious pain, be it chronic or acute, use a similar ‘On a scale of 0 to 10 how bad is it?’ scorecard system of measurement.

According to something I picked up from one of the Nicci French novels, even those who are obviously in the worst sort of unbearable pain possible, rarely, even never, answer with a number higher than 7 or 8. Because having experienced the previously unimaginable they can always imagine that it might get even worse.

Perhaps it is like that with happiness; we can never believe we have reached the pinnacle of 10 out of 10. Or perhaps it is the other way round: even if over the moon or just on cloud nine, we never believe it will last.

On the other hand, even if we are really miserable we don’t want to seem too much like moaning minnies, especially to the nice polite interviewer who is showing such an interest in us. So the result is a biased cluster of scores.

Poses interesting questions about how to test for significant differences in the sample results. It's not like throwing an unweighted die, all possible scores are not equally likely.