America’s first-ever venture to check happiness and the that means of life is going on in California

California Assemblyman Anthony Rendon likes to spend his spare time away from the Capitol in Sacramento together with his 4-year-old daughter again house close to Los Angeles. Final weekend, he took her ice skating and to an indoor playground, then let her get a donut after she agreed to journey her scooter on the best way there.

“These are the varieties of issues that make me glad,” he mentioned this week in an interview outdoors the state Meeting chambers, the place he’s served as a lawmaker for a dozen years.

Now Rendon, a Democrat who was one of many longest-serving Meeting audio system in California historical past, is spending his final 12 months in workplace making an attempt to make happiness extra central to policymaking. He created a first-in-the-nation group to check the difficulty, known as the Choose Committee on Happiness and Public Coverage Outcomes, which held its first public listening to this week.

It might be “foolish” for lawmakers to not examine how they’ll make individuals happier, Rendon mentioned.

“As a result of if we’ve got everyone clothed, everyone housed, everyone has a job and so they’re depressing, then we’ve failed at what we’re making an attempt to do,” he mentioned, including that lawmakers ought to take into consideration happiness as a precedence in policymaking.

In California, three-quarters of adults say they’re “very glad” or “fairly glad,” whereas 26% say they’re “not too glad,” in response to a September 2023 survey from the Public Coverage Institute of California. Adults age 18 to 34, people who find themselves renters, these with out a post-high college diploma, and Californians with an annual family earnings of $40,000 or decrease are usually much less glad than others.

California is breaking new floor in america. At the very least 12 state legislatures within the nation have committees centered on psychological well being and substance abuse points, however no different state legislature has a committee dedicated to happiness, in response to the Nationwide Convention of State Legislatures.

However the concept to think about happiness in public coverage isn’t unprecedented: The landlocked nation of Bhutan in South Asia prioritizes happiness as a objective of public coverage, measuring it by one thing written into its structure known as the Gross Nationwide Happiness Index. The nation surveys residents on their stage of happiness, and officers work to extend happiness by offering residents with free well being care and training, defending cultural traditions, and preserving forests, mentioned Phuntsho Norbu, consul normal of the Kingdom of Bhutan to america.

The federal government can’t make each particular person glad, however it ought to “create the best circumstances that may permit individuals to pursue happiness,” Norbu mentioned.

Lawmakers on California’s new committee heard this week from specialists in regards to the issues that make individuals glad, what public officers can do to assist and what position state and native authorities can play. The committee isn’t set on any options but however plans to launch a report with its findings after lawmakers adjourn for the 12 months on the finish of August, mentioned Katie Talbot, Rendon’s spokesperson.

Assemblymember Pilar Schiavo, a Democrat representing a part of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles County, hopes the committee’s work can handle poor psychological well being amongst youth in California, which her 11-year-old daughter has informed her is a giant difficulty in her class in school.

“It’s a real disaster that we’ve got on our palms proper now,” Schiavo mentioned. “That is actually attending to the center of what that disaster is about.”

Analysis demonstrates that leisure actions, social relationships and life circumstances contribute to an individual’s happiness, mentioned Meliksah Demir, a professor of happiness at California State College, Sacramento. Public officers can work towards bettering happiness by investing in psychological well being sources, making inexperienced areas extra accessible and instructing in regards to the worth of happiness early on in colleges, Demir mentioned.

Happiness has wide-ranging advantages that embody making individuals extra more likely to vote, extra artistic and more healthy, he mentioned.

The Public Coverage Institute of California’s September survey discovered that 33% of adults total say they’re very happy with their job, 31% say they’re very happy with their leisure actions and 44% are very happy with their housing.

Californians’ stage of happiness decreased through the pandemic, however specialists are nonetheless researching the decline, mentioned Mark Baldassare, the group’s survey director.

California, which is commonly forward of different states on points corresponding to local weather coverage and civil rights, is behind many components of the world in prioritizing happiness in policymaking, Rendon mentioned. He was impressed to create the happiness committee partly by a report on happiness launched yearly by the United Nations Sustainable Improvement Options Community.

Final 12 months’s report mentioned that how individuals view the effectiveness of presidency — together with how effectively it raises cash, delivers providers and avoids civil battle — can affect their happiness. The USA was fifteenth in a world happiness rating based mostly on a three-year common from 2020 to 2022, in response to the report. Scandinavian international locations, together with Finland and Iceland, ranked the best.

Rendon’s determination to create the happiness committee aligns together with his method to creating state coverage that focuses on “greater image” social points, longtime labor lobbyist Kristina Bas Hamilton mentioned. Folks have totally different views on authorities involvement of their lives, however the creation of the committee evokes the final word goal of presidency, she mentioned.

“Authorities’s position is to offer for its individuals,” Bas Hamilton mentioned. “The objective is to have glad residents. That’s the objective of all public coverage.”


Austin is a corps member for The Related Press/Report for America Statehouse Information Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit nationwide service program that locations journalists in native newsrooms to report on undercovered points. Comply with Austin on X, the platform previously often known as Twitter: @sophieadanna

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