There has been a lot of press coverage recently for the Government's 'happiness index', the attempt to measure national well being as a first step in targeting policies to improve quality of life in non-financial ways.

But is this possible? It seems to me that happiness and emotional well being are subjective and intangible; for example whilst it is a reasonable generalisation to assume that parents want their children to be happy, we are likely to all want it in different ways - how will government policy be able to address this across the population?

In fact even if it is possible, I think it would be wrong to try and measure happiness as it is not an objective or quantifiable emotion. Furthermore I feel quite strongly that there is something shaming in telling a person that they should be happier. Have you ever been feeling low when someone says to you "plenty of people worse off than you", or "you should count your blessings" or even "look on the bright side".

Their insistence in focusing on the positive, only denies you the validity of how you are feeling, worse, it makes you feel bad about feeling that way!

On a more serious note, people unfortunate enough to suffer from depression generally can't remember what happiness feels like and they usually don't expect to feel it again. They need access to professional help, and the ability to make an informed choice about what sort of help to get. Unfortunately the last government's Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) initiative has led merely to an inconsistent provision of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in primary care. This is often touted as a "cure all" for anything from phobias to depression, which in reality, I think it is not.

Until we have a range of talking therapies available on the NHS, the majority of work in this area will continue to be accessed by those rich enough to afford it, or provided by those professionals committed enough to work for little or no pay .

It strikes me that evening out this divide might be a better first step towards improving well being, rather than the gimmicky sounding happiness index.

Johanna Sartori is a counsellor and psychotherapist working in Twickenham. Go to -