When we examine how an economy is doing, we look at GDP per capita, growth, unemployment, inflation and interest rates. Each indicator gives us information about the status of the economy. Similarly, when we measure quality of life - we can examine different dimensions such as the cognitive, the affective and the eudaimonic dimension.
How we measure
Building on measurement guidelines and benchmarks from the OECD and UN, we combine qualitative and quantitative methods to provide insights on the level of well-being, happiness and quality of life. Whether we measure happiness, wellbeing or quality of life we are faced with the same challenges. They are all complex concepts. Therefore, we need to analyze different components.
The cognitive dimension
The cognitive dimension focuses on an overall life satisfaction and is the indicator, which is the basis for many international rankings such as the World Happiness Report.
The affective dimension
The affective dimension focus more on what kind of emotions – both positive and negative - people experience on a daily basis such as joy, worry and stress.
The eudaimonic dimension
The eudaimomic dimension builds on Aristotle’s perception of the good life and thus focuses on purpose and meaning.
These are all subjective measures – and we consider that to be a good thing
What we care about is how people feel about their life. We believe people themselves are the best judge of whether they are happy or not. Working with subjective measures is difficult, but it is not impossible. We do it all the time, when it comes to stress, anxiety and depression – which are also subjective phenomenons - at the end of the day, it is all about how we as individuals experience our lives.
What we ideally do is we follow people over time, and see how changes in life circumstances impact the different dimensions of happiness. How does e.g. unemployment, sickness, or a raise in income affect the different dimensions?
Why measure happiness?
Obviously, human well-being is more than wealth. Robert F. Kennedy famously pointed out that GDP “measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile” and today GDP is increasingly recognized as an insufficient measure of quality of life. With good reason. We have gotten richer – but not happier. We have failed to convert wealth into well-being.
Therefore, governments are increasingly interested in how happiness research can contribute to public policy and we are encouraged by the increasing number of institutions and governments which are working with new measures of progress.
With a focus on the determinants of happiness, happiness research can play a major role in a shift of our policy priorities. By increasing quality of life in our societies, we may in fact accomplish additional goals such as longevity, and productivity.
Our happiness levels is a complicated results of social relationships, sense of purpose, genetics, age, employment status, absolute and relative income, social comparisons, self-esteem, aspirations, health status, autonomy, consumption pattern, civil status and time use – to name a few.
Broadly speaking, three categories influence the happiness level of people. Those we cannot change (biology), those we can change over time (policies), and those we can change tomorrow (behavior). Our focus is on policies and behavior.
If we look at the importance of policies for our cognitive dimension of well-being (overall life satisfaction), which often form the basis for international happiness rankings, we can currently explain 75 percent of the variance between the 150+ countries in the World Happiness Report with factors that are influenced by policies such as health, freedom to make life choices, GDP per capita, good governance and behavior such as social support and altruism.
The Happiness Research Institute also believes in the noble idea that the true measure of any society can be found in how we treat our most vulnerable members.
That is why we are committed to explore and address well-being gaps and inequality. The aim of this work is not to belittle the importance of economic equality, but to shed light on an overlooked dimension of inequality. For more than a century, we been talking about economic inequality thanks to the idea of the Italian statistician Gini in 1912 - and we now know inequality causes crime, social unrest and even armed conflicts.
Meanwhile, the World Happiness Report 2016 argues that well-being inequality has a stronger negative impact on how we feel about our live than income inequality.
The Happiness Research Institute hopes to improve the debate and increase our awareness and understanding of well-being gaps and inequalities in our societies.