Measuring the pursuit of happiness: It’s complicated

This certain unalienable right is part of a well-known phrase (along with life and liberty) from the US’s Declaration of Independence. While life and liberty are a given for some, hard-fought for others, the pursuit of happiness in our big data-generation gets more and more attention and study. And more complicated to define.

The studies are plentiful (I’ve explored them previously). But different. Comparing these reports is like comparing apples and oranges. Take a closer look.

study of happiness, well-being measured, happiness reports,

A > Living a better life

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Better Life Index (OECD): Moves away from only GDP measurement and measures factors that impact people’s lives. The study identifies 11 topics as essential in the areas of material living conditions and quality of life. It’s a crowdsourced study that relies on an individual’s weighting of each topic. This most recent study cites Australia as the highest overall country in many factors – under the banner of happiness – if you will.

B > Finding happiness

World Happiness Report (WHR): The first-ever study from the United Nations, released last year. This deep and complex study ranks well-being over income as the foundation for happiness. The WHR shows Denmark and Iceland most consistently topping their various segments.

C > Being positive

Gallup World Poll on Positivity: Gallup chose a different aspect in studying happiness. The poll asks five questions of 148 countries: Did they experience enjoyment the day before the survey; did they feel respected; did they feel well-rested; did they laugh or smile often; and did they learn something interesting. According to Gallup’s results, Latin Americans are the most positive in the world, with Panama coming out on top. Denmark and the Netherlands placed in the top 20 slices, consistently ranking tops in well-being.

D > Living long and happy

Happy Planet Index (HPI): Measures the extent to which countries deliver long, happy, sustainable lives for the people that live in them. This Index calculates global data on life expectancy, experienced well-being, and ecological footprint to generate conclusions.

Newest results confirm that we are still not living on a happy planet. According to findings: “No country is able to combine success across the three goals of high life expectancy, high experienced well-being and living within environmental limits.”

Some findings of this study do coincide with Gallup’s poll: More highly developed Latin American countries score highest in delivering fairly long and happy lives.

study of happiness, well-being measured, happiness reports, hans christian andersen quoteThere’s a contradiction for everything

> Higher income does not necessarily mean better well-being. This is the general conclusion in most studies. Once a satiation point of income is reached, more income does not equate to more happiness. However, a recently-released report from two professors at the University of Michigan challenge that point. They claim that, on closer inspection of the Gallup data, more income does equal more happiness. You decide.

> If countries grow in income, do they become happier? A researcher from the WHR focused on 37 [developed, developing and transition] countries with long range of data. Within each group, he saw a flat, or negative relationship, between changes in life satisfaction and income.

> Happiness in moderation: Apparently too much happiness is a bad thing. Be careful, and be aware of your tipping point.

> Measuring the degree of happy people from different countries is not the same as what causes people to be happy.

> Life satisfaction and happiness: reliant, but different animals.

In wrapping, here’s an interesting question from Harvard’s Grant Study that could be considered a universal marker: What should a person be at the end of his [her] life that he [she] was not at the beginning?

Let’s drink to moderate happiness and well-being. Toast with tea, of course, because alcohol would be overindulging in happiness. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Flickr images: tree cross section by _vikram / juggler by Gabriel Rojas Hruska

Leave a Reply