Sunday, September 10, 2017

Happiness Movement FAQ

Happiness Movement Frequently Asked Questions

The happiness movement represents a paradigmatic shift where the well-being, happiness and sustainability of people and our planet matter most. Many do not understand what the happiness movement is or even that such a movement exists. Here are presented frequently asked questions and short answers for the visionaries working in the happiness movement.

Happiness can’t be measured, can it?

The issuance of the World Happiness Report first in 2012, and then again in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017 proves not just that happiness can be measured, but also how to measure it. Further clarifying this issue is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation (OECD) Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being. Thus, the question is not whether happiness can be measured and if it can be measured subjectively (yes) but what to measure.

·      World Happiness Report:
·      OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being:

Isn't happiness too “fuzzy” to measure?

Happiness is defined and measured in three different ways; feelings (affect), eudaimonia (the good life, or thriving), and satisfaction with life and the conditions of life.

These three aspects provide different information that informs different issues and reveals different implications. Affect can tell us how a specific environment or situation impacts a person in the moment. For example, are people happier or more anxious working remotely or in the office; when commuting to work on the bus or in their car; or when married or not, etc? Eudaimonia tells us what motivates people, and how resilient we are. For example, do you have a sense of purpose in your life? So you feel like your life is worthwhile? Are you optimistic about your future? Satisfaction with Life and the Conditions of Life gives us information about our remembered experience, which is fundamental to understanding why and how we will make decisions. For example, will people perceive a neighborhood or city safer or less safe, find one job satisfying or less satisfying than another, etc.

Resources and Links:
·      Diener, E., Wirtz, D., Tov, W., Kim-Prieto, C., Choi. D., Oishi, S., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2009). New measures of well-being: Flourishing and positive and negative feelings. Social Indicators Research, 39, 247-266.
·      Kahneman, D. (2010). The Riddle of Experience Versus Memory. TED2010.
·      Kahneman, D., Fredrickson, B., Schreiber, C., & Redelmeier, D. (1993). When More Pain is Preferred to Less; Adding a Better End. Psychological Science. 4 (1993): 401-405.

How do you measure happiness?

To measure how someone is feeling (called affect by scientists), you simply ask.  That the feeling of happiness and other feelings can be measured through questions and that one can get a response that one can rely upon to understand a person’s happiness is backed by science (Frey & Luechinger, 2007; Pavot & Diener, 1993). When asking about feelings, it is important to ask about one feeling at a time.  Diener et. al. (2009) developed an affect scale that includes 12 feelings: positive, negative, good, bad, pleasant, unpleasant, happy, sad, afraid, joyful, angry, and contented.

That said, it is up to each person to define what happiness, sadness, joy, anger, anxiety, calm, etc, is to them. Your sense of being happy may be very different from the person next to you or on the other side of the world, but both definitions are caught by the term happiness.  In the United Kingdom (UK), the Office of National Statistics (ONS) well-being survey (formerly called happiness survey) includes questions for happiness and anxiety, and, following the UK ONS, the Happiness Index (Happiness Alliance – does as well.

To measure eudaimonia, one commonly uses what is called a flourishing scale.  The Happiness Index’s flourishing scale asks questions about areas of optimism, positivity, purpose, engagement, accomplishment, and worthiness. The Happiness Index’s flourishing scale is based on questions from the OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being and work by Huppert and So (2011). It also includes the same question about worthiness that is in the UK ONS’ well-being survey.

To measure satisfaction with life, one can use the Cantril Ladder question, asking whether this life is the best or worse possible life, as well as a question the question “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?”  These two questions together in a survey represent the best practice to date. Both are included in the Happiness Index. 

Satisfaction with Life’s circumstances begs the question of what are life’s circumstances, also called domains. In the nation of Bhutan, where Gross National Happiness is measured using a survey instrument, the domains measured are: government, economy (standard of living), environment, culture, community, health, education and time balance in addition to measures for satisfaction with life, affect and eudaimonia. The OECD Better Life Index measures the domains of housing, income, jobs, community, education, environment, civic engagement, health, safety, work-life balance as well as measures for life satisfaction. The Happiness Index measures the same domains as Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index but includes the area of work. 

Resources & Links:

·       Better Life Index:
·       Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index:
·       Happiness Alliance Happiness Index Methodology:
·       Diener, E., Wirtz, D., Tov, W., Kim-Prieto, C., Choi. D., Oishi, S., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2009). New measures of well-being: Flourishing and positive and negative feelings. Social Indicators Research, 39, 247-266.
·       Frey, B. & Luechinger, S. (2007). Concepts of happiness and their measurement. Hessen, Germany: Metropolis Verlag
·       Huppert, F., & So, T. (2011). Flourishing across Europe: Application of a new conceptual framework for defining well-being. Social Indicators Research, 110, (3), 837–-861.  doi: 10.1007/s11205-011-9966-7
·       Pavot, W. & Diener, E. (1993). Review of the Satisfaction With Life Scale. Psychological Assessment,5(2),164-172.

Happiness is a frivolous matter and pursuit, isn’t it?

Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics.

We know this intuitively when we say that all we want for our children is that they are happy and healthy. It is important to understand that Aristotle used the term eudaimonia as synonymous with happiness. Today the term eudaimonia (eu is Ancient Greek for good, daimon is Ancient Greek for spirit or soul) can be interpreted as flourishing, or reaching one’s full potential. It is important to note that this interpretation of happiness encompasses the care of others, connection to community, and civic duty. 

Doesn’t prioritizing happiness put pleasure seeking above all else?

Today, science identifies four approaches to happiness: hedonism, eudaimonia, chaironic happiness, and flow.  Hedonism can be defined as seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, English philosophers, advocated for governments and society to seek the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people based on the hedonistic definition of happiness.  Chaironic happiness is a sense of openness and connection to God, spirit nature or a higher power. Philosophers ranging from Thomas Aquinas to C.G. Jung explored and advocated for chaironic happiness.  Flow, defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is an experience of optimal experience or oneness with what one is doing. Aristotle posed that eudaimonia is the goal for government, society and personal life.  Today’s definition of happiness within the context of the happiness movement is most closely aligned with eudaimonia, but this definition encompasses aspects of hedonism, flow and chaironic happiness.

Happiness is not, and should not, be the purpose of government, correct?

The purpose of government is to secure the happiness of its people, The underlying assumption that governments globally have adopted since WWII is that strong economic growth, personal income and wealth and high consumption rates are highly correlated to happiness and there is a strong causal link). This assumption was the basis for the systems and institutions resulting from the post WWII Bretton Woods conference: International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, pegging currency to the US dollar, the World Trade Organization, and others.  This assumption is partially but not completely true. Nations with higher per capita incomes have happier people, but income, consumption and economic growth are causally related to happiness only up to a certain level of personal income, commonly called the Easterlin Paradox (based on longitudinal data collected by Richard Easterlin), and loosely correlated to happiness (O’Donnell et. al., 2014).

The assumption that income and economic growth are causally related to happiness breaks down when considering income distribution. This was one reason for the call for nations to adopt wider measures of well-being (i.e. happiness) by French President Sarkozy in 2009, based on findings of the Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, commonly known as the Stieglitz Report. Scientific research, such as that recently conducted by Andrew Clark and others (see post about Origins of Happiness) indicate that there are many other factors, including social connection, strong communities, sense of safety, rewarding employment, and mental health, that have as high or higher correlation values to happiness, thus pointing directions for governmental policy that promote these goals as well as the goals of economic growth.

Resources and Links:
·      Stigliz, J., Sen, A. & Fitoussi. J.P. (2009, September). Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress. Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress.
·       Easterlin, R. (1974). Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot? In P. David & R.. P. & Reder, R. (Eds.), Nations and Households in Economic Growth: Essays in Honor of Moses (pp. 89–-125).  New York, NY: Academic Press, Inc.
·       Easterlin, R. (2001). Income and happiness: towards a unified theory. The Economic Journal, 111(473), 465-484.  doi: 10.1111/1468-0297.00646
·       Easterlin, R. (1995). Will raising the incomes of all increase the happiness of all? Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 27,(1), 35–-48. doi:10.1016/0167-2681(95)00003-B
·      O’Donnell, G., Deaton, A., Halpern, D., Durand, M., & Layard, R. (2014). Wellbeing and Public Policy. Legatum Institute.
·      Blog post on Origins of Happiness:

What governments are measuring happiness?

Thirty-nine of the forty OECD member countries are measuring happiness, according to Martine Durand, Director Employment Labor and Social Affairs and Chief Statistician at the OECD. Many other countries that are not member of the OECD are also measuring happiness in terms of affect, eudaimonia, satisfaction with life and the circumstances with life (see the essay Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, link below).

·      Martine Durand
·      Essay compiling nations measuring happiness: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness - which countries and measuring happiness and how.

There are no examples of happiness policy, are there?

Bhutan has promulgated many policies informed by and with the goal of the happiness of the nation. See examples in the essay, Happiness in Public Policy, for a compilation of some of these policies. That said, these examples come from one small nation in which the culture is homogenous and the country and population is quite small compared to most other nations. The challenge today is how to use happiness data to inform policy, and the need is for a government to take the lead, as identified by the EU BRAINPOoL Report in 2015.

·      Happiness in Public Policy essay on happiness policies
·       Whitby, A., Seaford, C., Berry, C., & BRAINPOoL Consortium Partners. (2014, March 31). BRAINPOoL project final report: Beyond GDP: from measurement to politics and policy. BRAINPOoL Deliverable 5.2, A collaborative programme funded by the European Union’s Seventh Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under Grant Agreement No. 283024. World Future Council. Retrieved from

If the purpose of government is the happiness of citizens and residents, then government will dictate actions, force people to be happy, and punish those who do not say they are happy, right?

The purpose of government is to secure the conditions that enable people to become or pursue happiness and to live a good life, not to dictate behaviors or actions or force people to be happy. What brings happiness for any one person is as unique as each person. When government aims to increase the happiness of their people, its job is to assess and understand people’s state of happiness and identify the policies and programs that will best provide opportunities for people to take action or choose a behavior that they believe will increase their happiness.

What is the difference between happiness and well-being?

Some nations are using the terms synonymously, others use the term well-being in lieu of happiness, and some propose that happiness is used to describe subjective well-being measured through surveys (questionnaires, polls, etc.) and well-being to describe the use of objective metrics. 

Won’t happiness distract governments and people from the ecological disasters from climate change, ecosystem destruction, political and physical water shortage, soil depletion and other ecological threats that we are facing? And what about social justice and inequalities? Won’t happiness mean that some people are happy at the expense of others?

The happiness movement represents a wider understanding of individual and national wellbeing that includes the domains of our environment and society, and many other domains listed above.  This is why the measurement tools for happiness cover so many domains. This data is also helping us understand how issues such as ecological health, social support, income equality, meaningful employment, and many other aspects of life, not considered when relying upon a single domain or a single economic measure such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), affect us. Happiness data also reveals enlightening information about different groups of people, and help point the way for policy that secures equitable opportunities for all people’s happiness. 

Do people tell the truth or lie when taking well-being surveys?

Research has found that data from subjective well-being surveys is reliable (Kreuder, A. & Schkade, D., (2008). The reliability of subjective well-being measures. Journal of Public Economics, 92(8-9), 1833-1845, doi 10.1016/j.jpubeco.2007.12.015; Napa Scollon C., Prieto CK., Diener E. (2009) Experience Sampling: Promises and Pitfalls, Strength and Weaknesses. In: Diener E. (eds) Assessing Well-Being. Social Indicators Research Series, vol 39. Springer, Dordrecht; Lee, Y., Hofferth, S.L., Flood, S.M. et al. Reliability, Validity, and Variability of the Subjective Well-Being Questions in the 2010 American Time Use Survey. Soc Indic Res 126, 1355–1373 (2016).

There are various ways that the reliability has been tested. One way is to compare the survey data to objective data. For example, in the instances whereby people who report that their health is good, and the objective data reveals that the same people are not ill, obese or otherwise in ill health, then on can assume the subjective data is reliable.  Another way is to do correlational analysis between various ways of measuring well-being. For example, when people report high levels of satisfaction with life, as well as high levels of well-being in other domains, this indicates the data is reliable. Note that not all domains need to be high, and some of the domains are more highly correlated, meaning that some domains have more or less of an impact on satisfaction with life.

One of the concerns with survey-based data is whether the data is biased by the way the question are answered. The OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being (2013, give clear guidance for ordering of questions, stating that satisfaction with life questions should always come first, as questions about other dimensions (or domains) of life can influence people’s response to a satisfaction with life question. For example, one may bias responses to satisfaction with life if asking questions about trust or sense of corruption in government, or feelings of safety, depending on the circumstances.

Another concern is that people are lying. In general, random sampling is more reliable than online convenience sampling, but also in general, online convenience sampling is reliable, meaning one can trust the data (Kim, S., Weaver, D., & Willnat, L. (2000). Media Reporting and Perceived Credibility of Online Polls, Journalism & Mass Communication, 77 (4) 846-864, doi 10.1177/107769900007700408). One way to manage reliability is through large samples. As more data is collected, the outliers count less. Another way is through ground truthing. One can take the data from a small convenience sample and compare it to data collected for the same or similar question collected for a random and large sample. When the data is similar or the same, it can be counted on to be reliable.

Another concern is when a group, entity or individual hacks a survey by bombarding it with respondents. This may be detected by checking the IP Address, which is a unique identifier for a device. A clever hacker will find a way around this. In this case, one should examine the data for unexpected results. For example, if for an area there is a large portion that reports very high trust in government, when historically and in other areas scores are low for trust in government, and the data is surprising, then one can make adjustments to the data.

Learn more about the Happiness Movement:

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