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This blog brings together content that is noticeable, important or otherwise interesting from a human givens point of view.

Monday, 11 July 2011

HUMAN GIVENS JOURNAL VOLUME 18, NO.1- 2011 - an interview with the National Statistician about wellbeing

TYRRELL: Knowing that I would be interviewing
you today, I read up as much as possible about
the Measuring National Well-being Programme
at the Office of National Statistics, which you
direct. But obviously our readers won't be so clear
about your plans for this programme. So I wonder
if you could start by telling us what point you
have reached in terms of measuring wellbeing
and whether you have got a definition of wellbeing
ALLIN: Good questions. It is early days for the
programme, which will run over several years to
produce better measures of national wellbeing -
and I'll come back to the matter of a definition of
wellbeing shortly. The interesting phase we are
in at the moment is that we are doing two big
blocks of work. One is the national debate that
was announced on 25 November and that will run
through until 15 April. And that's our opportunity
for hearing from as many members of the
public and organisations and institutions as we
can about what matters to them in terms of the
wellbeing ofthe UK. The second, in parallel with
that, is that we are working up some questions
to add to our own surveys; the Office of National
Statistics conducts a whole host of surveys week
in and week out, and we are asking questions
about people's subjective wellbeing - that is,
people's own assessment of their wellbeing -
because that was identified fairly early on as an
important strand of this bigger concept called
national wellbeing.
Just to stay with this idea of national wellbeing
for a moment, if you went back 40 or 50 years,
you would find that the way in which the wellbeing
of the UK, or any country, was determined
was by what were then relatively new fangled
sets of so-called National Accounts. From the
1950s onward, people have looked at wellbeing
as purely an economic measure - how are we
doing economically? Economic activity in a year
can be summed up as gross domestic product
(GDP). The trend in GDP per head has been
generally upwards. If you wanted to be really
sophisticated, you took inflation out and looked
at the growth in GDP per head in real terms or
compared your own country, using purchasing
power parities, with other countries. And that
was the way in which the debate was conducted.
But, actually, right from the start people said
there must be more to life than GDP.
TYRRELL: Indeed, there is! It has been clearly
shown that happiness levels remain pretty
stable over time despite rises in GDP - the socalled
Easterlin paradox (although it doesn't
seem very paradoxical to me). Anyway, subjective
wellbeing is now high on the agenda and
seen as critically important - which, of course, it
is, because it is people's perceptions which are
most meaningful to them - determining whether
they see the glass as half full or half empty, for
example. It is all about perception, as in that
wise old saying, "The rich man and the hungry
poor man do not see the same thing when they
look at a loaf of bread".
ALLIN: Exactly. But is national wellbeing really
the summing up of individual wellbeing, as is a
widely held view? Or is national wellbeing more
of a multi-dimensional concept, involving both
subjective and objective measures? As well as
subjective wellbeing measures, maybe a broader
set of objective measures is needed as well -
perhaps not just looking at the economy but
whether there are different measures of quality
of life in this country or of distribution of income
or of the impact that we are having on the environment.
We are using the national debate to explore
all of this further.
TYRRELL: Yes, the National Statistician Jil
Matheson captured the importance of that question
rather nicely, I thought, in her speech at the
November launch of the programme. She said,
"When I am driving my car and I get stuck in
traffic with the engine running, the fuel I use
adds to our GDP but it certainly does nothing for
my wellbeing and it doesn't help the environment."
ALLIN: So it's about trying to create a bigger,
broader, more widely based picture. We are not
alone in thinking this. There is very much an
international, worldwide drift in this direction.
You have probably come across the Stiglitz
TYRRELL: I saw it referenced in the document
Confident Communities, produced for the New
Horizons programme for improving mental
health.' I know it was a report produced in 2009
by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic
Performance and Social Progress, which
was set up by President Sarkozy.
ALLIN: And there are other influential bodies in
other countries as well. So that's why we are all
doing this, to try to produce a bigger picture. We
don't yet know what the picture will look like
and that is why we are conducting a national
debate to get a steer on the key things that matter
to people, both in terms of what they themselves
tell us and what professional groups and interest
groups and other departments say.

TYRRELL: Our approach at the Human Givens
Institute is very different. Do you know much
about the human givens approach, Paul?
ALLIN: We know quite a bit about it from all the
material that you and your colleagues have been
sending in to us since we started the national
debate on measuring wellbeing but I didn't know
much about it before. Perhaps you could say a
little about your approach and why you see it as
so different.
TYRRELL: We began our investigation from the
starling point of asking the question, "What is a
human being?" The answer is that, at the most
basic level, a human being is a life form and, like
all other life forms, it has to take in nutriment
from the environment to maintain and sustain
itself As a higher life form, our nutriment is not
just physical but also emotional. We can clearly
see, when doing psychotherapeutic work, for
example, that, if people don't get their essential
emotional needs met, they don't thrive. They may
get overly worried or depressed or angry or stressed
or develop physical illnesses. Just as a plant
needs sunlight and the right nutriment to grow,
and sickens if it doesn't get it, so it is with
human beings if their innate emotional needs
are not met. We experience what we need as
positive feelings that we seek to satisfy and, if
they are not satisfied, we get negative feelings.
For example, we look forward positively to being
with people but, if we are isolated, we feel lonely.
Once this principle is truly understood it is easy
to identify what causes problems.
We have been teaching this approach in the
context of trying to improve psychotherapy, counselling
and children's upbringing and education
for some years now. We have delineated innate
emotional needs in detail. Decades of social and
health psychology research have shown us the
connection between mental and physical health
and the need for a degree of
control over one's own life, for
instance. This is innate in us,
as is the need to feel secure,
to achieve competencies, to
have intimate relationships,
to connect to the wider community
and to be stretched so
that our lives have meaning
and purpose - much of this
information was garnered from
the same sorts of information sources that you
yourselves are looking at. I can see from the publication
Confident Communities, which you have
on your website, that a lot of the research cited
is very similar to the research that we drew on.'
We have shown that the source of stress and
mental illness is always around where people's
innate emotional needs are not being met. So we
look to see what is preventing them from getting
them met. Is it because they are living in a toxic
-community? Have they been traumatised? Are
they on the autistic spectrum and so cannot access
the same genetic templates as those around
them etc? Autistic children, for instance, because
they find it
hard to relate to
others and understand
social communication,
feel all
the more alienated,
insecure and frightened
and that can
lead in turn to aggressive,
behaviours. So
our approach is to
keep going back to
what nature gave
us: the genetic programme
for becoming
a healthy human
being. That is why
we call it human
Wellbeing I
ALLIN: That is really helpful. Thank you. As I
say, we have got a lot of useful information from
your institute and from members of it who contacted
us. So that's great. At the moment, although
there is no standard definition of wellbeing, there
is a general understanding that this refers to an
individual having a positive physical, social and
mental state.
TYRRELL: Yes, I saw a government-agreed
definition in the Confident Communities document
that mental wellbeing is "a positive state
of mind and body, feeling safe and able to cope,
with a sense of connection with people, communities
and the wider environment". And that is
certainly what we have been talking about. But
we also emphasise some needs that don't get
mentioned in government publications. For
instance, attention is a fundamental human need
- understanding of family values, culture and,
indeed, all learning develop
through exchanging attention.
Yet, increasingly, young children
don't get sufficient adult
attention. The frontal lobes in
the brain don't develop properly
if children don't get their
attention needs met adequately.
So when innate needs like
this are not met, people become
mentally unwell.
We created an online Emotional Needs Audit,"
I'm sure you would say that it isn't very scientific
but something like 14,000 people have completed
it. We simply asked them to rate how well
they think their own individual emotional needs
are met on a scale of one to seven, and it is giving
us some interesting results. If you extrapolate
up to the whole population, millions of people
are not getting innate needs met. For example,
as evidence you cite is showing, the need to feel
secure is really important. If you feel unsafe or
insecure in whatever respect, be it physically, at
work or in relationships, you are fearful and
emotionally aroused, and when you are emotion-

ally aroused, you can't really think clearly. Yet it
seems large numbers of people don't feel secure.
On a scale of one to seven, 41.8 per cent of
people who completed the audit only ticked one,
two or three. So they feel pretty insecure and
that means they are going to worry, which could
very likely develop into depression and anxiety
AlLIN: Well, in fact, we are looking with interest
at your audit and at all sorts of research and developments
that have taken place over recent years.
We certainly didn't invent this topic ourselves in
November last year, when the Prime Minister
and Jil Matheson launched the debate! I would
just like to come back to what you were saying
about the Emotional Needs Audit because I think
it raises a couple of fascinating points. First, one
could ask parallel questions, equivalent questions,
of society or of the country or of the economy,
I suppose. And that is essentially the way in which
the original post-war ideas about the wellbeing of
the country were put into practice. People said,
"Well,the only things that we can really measure
are all the economic transactions that are going
on. So we'll measure that and we'll do it through
internationally agreed standards, in a very thorough
way and regularly, and that will be our
assessment of the wellbeing of the country. Yes,
we know it's only the economy but that must be
pretty important, mustn't it?" But over the last
15 to 20 years people have been saying no, that
isn't good enough and we do need to revisit that.
I think that most of the work on wellbeing has
been done, as you have just described it, by thinking
about this from the perspective of the individual
- and that has been hugely important.
Gallup, for instance, has got a model underpinning
its world poll on wellbeing, which asks about the
basic needs that people have to have met, and they
start with basics like shelter, etc, because they
are doing this with people all around the world.
The New Economic Foundation has similarly
thought through, perhaps more in a UK or
Western-advanced setting, what the wellbeing of
an individual would build up to. So when we
started thinking about the wellbeing of the UK,
there was one very clear view that all we needed
to do was look at the wellbeing of individuals and
in some way try and summarise that or produce
some kind of overview.
TYRRELL: But you can look at the wellbeing of
an organisation, too - how well it is looking after
the needs of its employees, its customers, its
shareholders, etc.
ALLIN: That's what we want to do for the UK as
a whole. The National Accounts give results for
the UK economy, so it is the equivalent assessment
of the wellbeing of society - the quality of
life, how well people in the UK are being looked
after - that we are looking for. I think what we
are trying to tease out is whether, to produce
summary measures for that, we need to do something
more than look at the wellbeing of individuals
- although, as I said a few moments ago,
it is certainly necessary to understand about the
wellbeing of individuals.
TYRRELL: Yes, it is an important part of the
picture but we are also social creatures: we exist
in groups. We have an innate need to be connected
into the community - that has come up
time and again in research findings that you
have quoted, and we ourselves have said so for a
long time. People who feel themselves well connected
to one or other group benefit from that
enormously. But ifyou are a young person living
on some problem estate somewhere and the only
community you can connect to is the local gang,
that is what you are going to do. You are driven
to connect to it by this innate need. And this, of
course, is what happens to a lot of youngsters. It
is not that they are being deliberately perverse
- nature is driving them to connect to a group,
because that is one aspect of how we survive.
ALLIN: Absolutely. The idea of social capital was
very much in vogue a few years ago and here at
the Office of National Statistics we used to ask
questions in om surveys about social capital -
that is, reciprocal social relations that can have
all sorts of benefits, including friendships, safety,
community and maybe even material ones.
However, exactly as you point out, social capital
can have a downside as well. Academics like
Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone.' have
talked about the value of getting into social
groups and using community to increase civic
engagement. But, turning that around, if the
groups become exclusive groups - even seemingly
innocuous bowls groups, for instance -
which don't let anybody join who is of a different
skin colour from existing members, then that
may not be quite so good for general wellbeing.
TYRRELL: Absolutely. I remember back in the
70s meeting in Germany a chap who had been
in the Hitler Youth movement and he looked
back on those times with great nostalgia. He was
definitely happy then but it wasn't a particularly
healthy group, in the larger context.
ALLIN: So you can see the challenges we face. If
we want to assess this social connectedness or
the social capital that exists in particular places,
that doesn't necessarily mean that an increase
in that kind of social capital will mean an increase
in the overall wellbeing of the UK. And
that is what we are trying to tease out here. It is
why I think it will take a bit of time to get all of
this in place.
But we don't want that level of detail to hold
us up from making real progress here, which is
one reason that we are pushing ahead so quickly
on measures for subjective wellbeing; within the
constraints and challenges and opportunities that
there are for asking questions in om national
surveys, we can really bring fresh data to bear
on all this. We can bring some new information,
using questions that are quite well recognised,
to people who have been working in this area -
whether to do with life satisfaction or positive or
negative affect or flourishing. What will be new

is that, by asking these questions over a huge
sample of people (we are looking to achieve a
sample of about 200,000), this really will enable
us to drill down and look at different parts of the
country and other distinctions. With that large
sample, we can only ask a small number of wellbeing
questions - that's one of the frustrationsbut
we will obviously, as we do anyway in our
surveys, collect quite a lot of contextual information
alongside, such as about the kind of jobs
people have, their qualifications, where they live
and things like that.
So it will be a very rich data set and Ithink it
will build very much on the extremely extensive
research that has already been done, and
continues to be done, in academia and various
institutions and elsewhere.
TYRRELL: That all takes a great deal of time,
though! Can I put a slightly different view? We
know a huge amount about what people actually
need. We know what enables children to flourish
at home and at school. We know how to do good
psychotherapy. We know how to create local communities
in which people work for and with one
another in such a way that they feel really good
about where they live - you refer to that as
empowered communities - and so on. It's very
well known and already in the public domain.
TYRRELL: So it is hard for me to see what further
research and surveys can add to what we know.
Well, let me ask you that. Do you think more research
can add any more to what we already know
and to the knowledge that has been gathered, if
you think about it, probably for the thousands of
years that people have been studying people?
ALLIN: That's a good question, isn't it? I think
what we are trying to do here is produce something
that will enable us to
draw attention to the
more detailed work
that is already around.
So one thing we want
to do in this national
debate is to point to all
that is known already
because I'm sure that,
from where you sit in
the Human Givens
Institute, it is very
clear to you and you
have been doing great
work in energising
people and promoting it. Maybe we can add a bit
to that by, in the outcome from the national debate,
drawing attention to your institute's work
by saying that we came across it. But, to try to
answer your challenging question, I think the
fact that we are asking about subjective wellbeing
in one of the official surveys of the UK's
national statistics office has quite a dramatic role
in that it says that these things are important
enough to measure and keep on measuring.
TYRRELL: And it confers an official stamp, as it
were, which could encourage people to establish
projects that are really useful.
ALLIN: It especially encourages that, which is
what Mr Cameron wants. To him, our producing
figures is important but it is not the end. What
he was saying on 25 November was how he
wants policy to be done differently in government,
and to build on the good examples there
are around in various government departments
- education, health and others - which have
looked at wellbeing as one of their policy goals.
He wants to spread that idea and make sure
that wellbeing is up there in virtually every
decision that is made in government. But he is
not losing sight of the fact that we need a bit of
economic growth.
TYRRELL: Well yes, it has all got to be paid for!
May Itell you something that I've been thinking
about a lot, in terms of the kinds of projects that
David Cameron wants to encourage? I think that
the most important thing that needs to be done is
to educate people about what it is that makes a
mentally healthy human being. It should be taught
in schools, to employers and politicians and professionals
in all sorts of disciplines - because it is
the basic knowledge from which we can see how
people should treat one another and themselves.
We've been training professionals since 1996.
When we started talking in terms of the human
givens and saying that, if people get their emotional
needs met in balance, they can't have
mental health problems - we explained what
causes depression, anxiety disorders, addiction
and so on - GPs, nurses, occupational therapists,
social workers, psychotherapists, counsellors and
diverse other professionals such as head teachers,
business people and lawyers would say, "It's so
obvious! Why weren't we taught this before? I
wish I had known this
years ago." This is because
innate needs gives them
a pattern, a framework,
a constructive way of
thinking about how they
can achieve what they
want to achieve in their
work with people -
patients who recover
fully and quickly from
mental or physical ill
health, children who
are curious and interested
and want to learn, employees who work more
effectively because they care about the company
and feel cared for, and so on.
I think this is what has to happen before anything
else, really. The knowledge that already
exists has got to be shared and spread. Then, if
people start to do the things that David Cameron
is trying to encourage communities to do, they
will do so because they feel they own the idea -
they made the connection in their own minds.
I can give you a brief example of that. We help-

ed initiate a group of human givens therapists to
establish "Just what we need" parent pods. The
idea was that therapists would work with parents
who were really struggling - they were
mainly single mums, some underage, and not
necessarily highly intelligent. But these mothers
were not shown how to bring up their children,
which is what is normally done; they were taught
about their own innate needs, what they themselves
needed in order to
be able to live a satisfying
life. Of course, the therapists
couldn't change material
circumstances but they
could teach new attitudes
- and sometimes that in
itself did lead to a significant
change in circumstances.
The mums and
dads made the connections
in their own brains. They
might say, "Oh, so if I need attention/security/a
sense of status, so must my little Johnnie". The
therapists would spend a session on each essential
emotional need and teach about it in fun
ways and show how that particular need contributed
to making an emotionally healthy human
being. That in itself was enough to start parents'
relationship with children improving, children's
performance in school improving, and so on. And
these courses don't have the high drop-out rates
that most parenting groups have.
But, if government just imposes ideas or solutions
on people - ''You're going to do this; we're
going to do that; we are going to spend money
here; we are going to spend money there" - I fear
a lot of these projects are going to struggle.
ALLIN: That is a very powerful argument. It
strikes a chord in some thinking we have been
doing about one of the approaches to measuring
wellbeing that the Stiglitz commission is very
keen on - and that is to think about the stock of
things - or the capital, to use the economics jargon
- and to think about human capital in particular.
If I have understood the human givens
approach correctly, it is saying, "This is what you
come into the world with, in terms of what's in
your account on day one-"
TYRRElL: ~ Yes, it's like a genetic plan for how
to build a good life.
ALLIN: And so the way that this grows over time
sounds quite similar to the way in which people
who promote the idea of human capital say that,
with education and training and experience and
those sorts of things, one's human capital can
increase as well.
Actually, talking about stocks and capital to
government policy makers often strikes a real
chord. They can 'get it'! We can add to these things
or, ifwe don't develop them or we don't recognise
them or we don't give them much attention, they
can get out of date or wither away. So Stiglitz
says quite a lot about trying to identify the
different aspects of the different capitals that
are around, and that is one approach that we
are exploring. And I can see a very obvious connection
between the human givens and what
happens subsequently as you go through the life
But, as regards the point you are making,
I want to reassure you that this national debate
is the opportunity to identify the knowledge, as
you call it, that is already out there. Werecognise
that lots of people have
been doing valuable work
over many years. We are
just parachuting in, saying,
"Right, the Prime
Minister has asked us to
look at measuring national
wellbeing" and we
are not about cherry picking
- we are about trying
to identify all the relevant
work that is going
on. That is why we are so pleased that your
institute and the members of it, and other people
who know about the approach, have all referred
us to it. We want to give a good reference to the
human givens and to all the other relevant work
when we come to write up our review and reflect
on where we go from here - what we can actually
do to produce measures that truly reflect these
TYRRElL: Once you have gathered all this data,
Paul, what exactly does happen next? And could
there be a role for the Human Givens Institute
in it? After all, this is something we have studied
for many years now.We have thought about
these issues at some considerable length and
depth. I think we could be of great help and service
to you. How does one get involved?
ALLIN: Okay, what happens next is that, after
April, when we try and gather things together,
we want to play our thoughts and findings back
out to a number of people - not to do another
full public consultation (that would just keep
things running on forever) but to recognise that
there are certain people that we need to come
back and talk to and see if we can make some
real progress towards producing some wider measures.
What I'm saying is that we would love to
come back and talk to you once we've emerged
from the national debate. In the meantime, please
do all you can to make sure we know exactly
what we need to know about the human givens
approach and that we have got (as I hope we
now have) all the material we need to look at,
alongside other works - such as on flourishing,
from Felicity Huppert, a psychology professor
prominent in the positive psychology movement,
and life satisfaction, from distinguished
economist Richard Layard, and many others
as well.
TYRRELL: That's brilliant. Wewill definitely keep
in touch and send you relevant information
when we have it. But there is something else I'd
like to mention. Feeling some degree of volition

and control in life is an important innate need. It
is a means by which we get feedback from the
world - we do something and it produces a result.
It is what enables us to exist, really. Yet one of the
papers I've read from your office quotes findings
from the 2007 British Household Panel Survey
that 64 per cent of people agreed or strongly
agreed that they can't influence government
policy and only 20 per cent of the population
thought that they could have any impact at all on
national government policy. It was the same in
the 2005 and 2003 surveys. That is a bit worrying,
isn't it? After all, as volition is an innate
need, it means that government is perceived as
blocking an essential innate need from being
ALLIN: Without commenting on the actual
figures, as I don't have them at my fingertips, I
think the point you are making is in line with
what Mr Cameron has been saying about the
need for a better way to do policy.
TYRRELL: Then that is positive. He is getting a
lot of flak but his heart seems to be in the right
place on this, doesn't it?
ALLIN: As a non-ministerial government department,
we have to be careful not to be party political
but there is definitely cross-party interest
in a different way of doing policy and I think
that people like Lord Layard and others have
been making this point quite carefully and
persistently over a variety of different administrations.
Maybe it is now that we can see a
way in which we can begin to bring this into
government policy making, a way in which we
can have some national data that can help
frame and produce a backdrop to it. It is not
going to give all the
answers but maybe
it is about encouraging
departments and
policy makers in local
government and elsewhere
to take this
broader view of wellbeing
and consider
how to deliver it.
TYRRELL: That would
be highly desirable. I
would suggest that
onequestionthat every
department should
ask is, "Is this policy we are considering (whatever
it is) going to get people's emotional needs
met better?" Or is it going to prevent people from
getting their needs met? As much as possible,
that should be considered in all kinds of policy
ALLIN: That's right. I think that, as we go
forward, it will be interesting to see how much
challenging and questioning of departments
and ministers comes from the public and from
institutes and from academia, to test out how
much they are taking account of these wider
innate needs. I think the role of a national statistics
office is essentially to provide the data
that everybody needs to have in order to hold a
more informed discussion of these things. We
are not just here to provide data and we are not
just here to provide data for people to question
policy but, hopefully, if we can all agree on the
data, the discussion is more meaningful.
TYRRELL: And do you think the politicians will
really listen to what you come up with, from the
results of your survey?
ALLIN: Well, I can't speak for them all but there
is certainly a lot of interest in this topic. Jil
Matheson, as National Statistician, was invited
to talk to an all-party parliamentary group and
I'm sure there are other examples of politicians
from all groups and parties picking up on this.
Internationally, the Organisation for Economic
Cooperation and Development has taken this up
in a big way and is talking to political leaders
and officials around the world in terms of producing
new measures of societies' progress. And
I think that strikes a chord with what you were
saying about taking a common approach around
the world because international comparability
is something that the international organisations
are very keen on. We will have a more
informed debate if we all agree on the broad
measures of wellbeing and then we can have a
slightly more sensible discussion about what economic
growth is doing to quality of life and the
environment and its impact on the wellbeing
of all.
TYRRELL: It is quite hopeful, isn't it, if this could
be achieved? It is something so desperately, desperately
needed in the world.
ALLIN: It is an exciting and challenging development.
I have great
expectations that we
can get to some sensible
answers very
quickly and we will
try and make good
progress and make
sure we have correctly
interpreted all
the information that
has been provided to
us and, I'll say again,
that includes the information
that we
have got from the
Human Givens Institute. We will certainly get
back to you to continue this discussion.
TYRRELL: It has been most informative talking
with you, Paul. I really do feel that, when you
have got good statistics and data and real knowledge,
it gets beneath ideology.And that is really
what the world needs - less ideology and more
ALLIN: You won't get a national statistician disagreeing
with that! _
" It will be interesting to see
how much challenging and
questioning of departments and
ministers comes from the public
and institutes and academia, to
test out how much they are taking
account of wider innate needs "

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