With the utility of GDP under increased scrutiny as a metric of wellbeing, Dr Lucía Macchia argues that people’s experience of pain and, how it affects their lives, needs to be better measured and incorporated into policy decision-making. Writing in Nature Human Behaviour.

By Mr Shamim Quadir (Senior Communications Officer), Published

Dr Lucía Macchia is a behavioural scientist and Lecturer in Psychology (Education & Research) at City, University of London.  Sharing her Comment piece in Nature Human Behaviour, she argues that the concept of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of a nation’s economic success, and thereby an indicator of wellbeing, has been comprehensively challenged and increasingly distrusted.

As alternate, real-world metrics of wellbeing continue to be sought and used by policy makers and in government parlance: from metrics like ‘happiness’ and ‘life satisfaction’ to ‘employment’, ‘relationships’, ‘accommodation’ and ‘health’, Macchia argues that pain needs to be added to the equation.

While most people think of pain as a solely physical phenomenon, of the body hurting, there is a large, growing body of evidence showing that pain affects how we think and feel, and that our environments can effect the degree of pain we experience.

There are many reasons to specifically measure pain to inform policy-making, including to provide context to other measures of wellbeing such as life satisfaction. Pain is also closely linked to negative emotions, such as anxiety and depression. As a physical symptom, pain may be more likely to be reported than emotions by people concerned about reporting mental health difficulty.

In terms of relative impact, Macchia highlights how trends in the experience of pain across the world are on the rise from 23 per cent in 2009 to 32 per cent in 2021, and how pain is incredibly costly to national economies. For example, the US spends more than $600 billion dollars annually to treat pain, a figure that surpasses the comparable cost of heart disease and diabetes to the country.

She argues that a simple, brief question included on government disseminated surveys, such as “how much bodily pain do you have right now?” where a respondent could answer anything from 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst imaginable pain), could be transformative to a nation’s understanding of its wellbeing,  helping governments to monitor pain in an efficient and affordable way.

Read the full, Comment article in the journal, Nature Human Behaviour .