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How is happiness quantified?

Ask the researchers at the Gallup World Poll. Between 2005 and 2009, they surveyed thousands of people in 155 countries in order to measure two types of well-being.

The key questions to respondents: How would they rate their lives on a scale from zero to 10 (worst to best), and thoughts on positive or negative emotions.

Subjects used a “life evaluation” score to rank overall satisfaction. Next, each subject was asked about the previous day. How were their “daily experiences:” were they well-rested, respected, autonomous, intellectually engaged? Subjects that reported high scores were considered “thriving.”

Last may, the curious g started following the happiness meter in Come on – get happy. While the US is the richest nation on earth, it didn’t make the top 10 in either data crunch. Data indicated that the relationship between overall life satisfaction and wealth isn’t as straightforward as was previously thought. Wealth may go a long way in contributing to positive life experiences, but money can’t buy happiness. Consider:

  • Long-term happiness – when associated with income, provided comfort for a particular kind of well-being – one’s successes and future prospects.
  • Day-to-day happiness – when associated with how one’s psychological and social needs are met – isn’t necessarily tied to income.

A Forbes.com look at the poll, which closed in 2009, still found northern Europe blissfully happy.

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“The Scandinavian countries do really well,” says Jim Harter, a chief scientist at Gallup. “One theory why is that they have their basic needs taken care of to a higher degree than other countries. When we look at all the data, those basic needs explain the relationship between income and well-being.”

That’s one way to measure happiness. Stay tuned for another way in a future post.

How do you measure your happiness?

Table adapted from Forbes.com, complete table here.

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