Questions People who take the Happiness Index Frequently Ask & their Answers (FAQs)
What is the Happiness Index? And what do you mean by happiness?
Isn't happiness highly personal?
What makes you happy is unique to you, and at the same time, people are happier when the circumstances of our life support our happiness. Because we all share certain needs, we all benefit when circumstances allow us to meet those needs. For example, you may find happiness in your work or in your family, in nature or in community, in leisure or in activity, in volunteering or in exercising - in all of these or none of these, but when your life circumstances allow you to do what makes you happy - well, you are happier, and you are likely to be more satisfied with your life. You can look at it from the opposite perspective: if you lost your job and had no way to support yourself and your loved ones, your environment were so toxic it made you sick or endangered your life in other ways, your government so corrupt you feared for your life on a daily basis (we could go on, but you probably get the point), well, you would be pretty unhappy - miserable, in fact. So while what you do to be happy is entirely unique to you, everyone benefits when the conditions of life allow them to be happy.
Can I trust the Happiness Index with my data? Why do you want to know my scores? What will you do with my data?
The Happiness Index data is collected by the Happiness Alliance. We follow the European Union's General Data Protection and Regulation (GDPR) which is the strongest code we know of for protecting personal data. In simple terms: all of your responses are kept anonymous; data is kept only for as long as it is useful, we never sell or trade your data, we only use it (and always in an anonymized format) for its original purpose. When you take the Happiness Index to contribute to gathering data for an area, project or purpose in partnership with another organization or entity, we make sure that our partners agree to the GDPR, and we share only anonymized data. Sometimes our partners give you the option to enter your name, email or other information for follow up, and in these cases, you have the option of not answering the question (you have the option of not answering any question actually) and we separate personal identification data like your email from the rest of the data set to protect anonymity.
Can I trust what the Happiness Index measures? Who put together the Happiness Index? How do I know it is a valid instrument?
The Happiness Index was developed by a group of psychologists at San Francisco State University led by psychology professor and researcher Ryan T. Howell for the Happiness Alliance. All of the questions in the Happiness Index measure factors that influence your satisfaction with life. You can read the methodology here. It is inspired by Bhutan's Gross National Happiness Index, a version of which we used when we first started gathering data! We added the domain of Work, and with our project Planet Happiness, questions about tourism for using the Happiness Index in the tourism sector. The Happiness Index has passed Internal Review Boards (IRB) at universities, a rigorous process that ensures surveys do not harm humans.
Why should I take the Happiness Index? What is in it for me?
When you take the Happiness Index, you receive your own personal assessment of your well-being. After you take the survey, you will see the average of all the questions you answered for each domain compared to the average of all survey takers who have taken the survey using the link you used. By taking the survey, you also contribute to the Happiness Movement, a global effort to raise awareness about the importance of happiness for all beings. You can learn more about the Happiness Movement on our page, The Happy Community Toolkit.
What if my Happiness Index scores are low? What if they are lower than everybody else? Isn't that depressing?
Low scores do not necessarily mean that you are unhappy, and can mean that you are not satisfied with some elements of your life, or that you are going through a time when things are more challenging. For example, if you scores are lower than everyone else in time balance, but you are working on a big project, then a low score can be a reminder to take some time to restore when the project is done. On the other hand, if you chronically do not have enough time, then it might be a good idea to think about what changes in your life you can make so that you don't get burnt out and end up less satisfied with your life.
Over the years, many people whose scores are lower in the areas of satisfaction with life and psychological well-being than others have asked what they can do about their unhappiness and so we have developed a set of tools that you can find on our How To Be Happy page. including the Feeling Sad, Feeling Happy, the Dr. Bliss Doctrine for Happiness, Happiness Lessons for when you are Depressed, and others. None of these tools is intended to replace mental health services or the help of a therapist, and we wholeheartedly agree with one of the key findings by economists and psychologists in the happiness movement about the importance of mental health services (see chapter three in the 2018 Global Happiness Policy Report).
A person can't really change how happy they are, can they?
Scientists have identified three determinants of happiness: genetics, life circumstances, and your mind (we include how you think and what you do as "mind," realizing this is a deep subject, so pardon our simplicity here!). Findings about the power each determinant has on your happiness vary. Their research finds that about 33% or 50% of your happiness may be determined by genetics, which may mean that if you were born with a cheerful or grumpy disposition, there is not much you can do about it - maybe. We think that it is likely that there is a lot of overlap and blurriness in how much genetics, life circumstances, and your choices about how you think and what you do contribute to your happiness.
What is certain is that you can change how happy you are because you have a degree of control over your circumstances, and you do have control over your mind. We realize neuroscientists and others have important contributions to the question about how much control we have over our minds, and the question of free will is not resolved, so again, pardon our simplicity. All that said, one of the simplest, albeit not easy ways to change how happy you are is to train your mind and body. So, the answer to this question is: yes, you can change how happy you are.
What can I do with my Happiness Index Scores? Why don't I get a personal happiness plan?
You can use your scores and the Happiness Index as a way to think about your happiness and to get a new perspective. You can also use the Happiness Index as the basis for conversations about what happiness is and about the purpose of life. They can also be used as a starting point to learn more about the Happiness Movement and to spark conversations about the purpose of government.
We would love to be able to give you your own personalized happiness plan based on your scores. If you or someone you know would like to fund or volunteer to develop this for us, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, you can gather resources and information for addressing low scores from the Personal Happiness Roadmaps, The Personal Happiness Handbook, and the Family Happiness Handbook.
Do people tell the truth or lie when taking well-being surveys?
Research has found that data from subjective well-being surveys is reliable (1).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 Wellbeing (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.
Written by Laura Musikanski and Chi Lo
April 12, 2021
(1) (1). (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). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-015-0923-8).