How happy are you?

In one community, the government would like to know how this whole life, liberty and pursuit of happiness is working for you.

From the New York Times:

When they filled out the city’s census forms this spring, the people of Somerville got a new question. On a scale of 1 to 10, they were asked, “How happy do you feel right now?”

Officials here want this Boston suburb to become the first city in the United States to systematically track people’s happiness. Like leaders in Britain, France and a few other places, they want to move beyond the traditional measures of success — economic growth — to promote policies that produce more than just material well-being.

Monitoring the citizenry’s happiness has been advocated by prominent psychologists and economists, but not without debate over how to do it and whether happiness is even the right thing for politicians to be promoting. The pursuit of happiness may be an inalienable right, but that is not the same as reporting blissful feelings on a questionnaire.

“Does it matter if I am a little manic right now?” one Somerville resident wrote on the census form. (Apparently not: he gave himself a “10” for happiness.)

So far, more than 7,500 people have mailed back the survey, some of them clearly not limiting their answers to municipal concerns. In response to the question “How satisfied are you with your life in general?” one man gave himself only a 6, explaining, “I would like to be three inches taller and speak Quechua fluently.”

In some ways, Somerville is a perfect test tube for such an experiment. Sandwiched between Harvard and Tufts Universities, the city is a blue-collar bastion with a growing population of young professionals and academics. Somewhat less lovely than its upscale neighbor, Cambridge (but with lower rents), Somerville used to be renowned for crime and nicknamed “Slummerville,” but its reputation and priorities have been changing as it gentrifies.

“We need to change our mind-set in how we serve people,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone, who has been hailed at the White House for the city’s pioneering program against obesity. He called the happiness survey “a no-brainer” that he approved as soon as it was suggested.

“Cities keep careful track of their finances, but a bond rating doesn’t tell us how people feel or why they want to raise a family here or relocate a business here,” Mr. Curtatone said.

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