‘Being happy is something you have to learn. I often surprise myself by saying “Wow, this is it. I guess I’m happy. I got a home I love. A career that I love. I’m even feeling more and more at peace with myself.” If there’s something else to happiness, let me know. I’m ambitious for that, too.’ Harrison Ford
How happy are you? This begs the question – how do you know how happy you are?
Is it something you can measure?
Is it something we should measure – and at what level can we measure it or could we measure it, if it’s possible.
At an individual level or what about something bigger, like a county or state level or even a national level.
That’s a bit of a tricky question isn’t it?
Because we don’t really go around measuring how happy we are – do we?
We sort of know it don’t we, that’s even if we stop and think about it which we don’t do most of the time. We just get on with going about our lives until something notable, good or bad happens, or maybe we plan something so we’re looking forward to it and thinking about it makes us feel happy.
Happiness is something we have a feeling for.
Websters describes it as a “a state of well-being and contentment.”
We all know the physical effects of happiness; like smiling and laughing. And there’s also physiological reactions when we’re happy, like increased activity in the brain’s left prefrontal lobe and decreased amounts of the stress hormone cortisol in our bloodstream.
We often think about happiness in terms of the negative or in retrospect.
We realise when we’re not feeling happy. Something happens to make us sad and we look back and think that we were happy then, even if we didn’t necessarily think about it at the time.
How happy we feel can frequently change depending on the context. As we talked about in episode 56 on ‘What is Happiness?’, this is reflected by the different types of happiness. The short lived experiential happiness of doing things that make us happy and the longer term underlying sense of wellbeing.
So you could have a different answer for ‘am I feeling happy today’ to ‘am I happy with my life’.
If we stop and think about it, we sort of know if we’re happy in the moment or not, or with our overall sense of wellbeing – but is there a way to measure happiness for ourselves and wider communities?
It turns out there are lots of ways to measure happiness and quite a lot of psychologists are doing it.
In an interview with the Harvard Business Review Harvard, psychology professor Daniel Gilbert said:
“It’s only recently that we realized we could marry one of our oldest questions – “What is the nature of human happiness?” – to our newest way of getting answers: science. Until just a few decades ago, the problem of happiness was mainly in the hands of philosophers and poets.
Psychologists have always been interested in emotion, but in the past two decades the study of emotion has exploded, and one of the emotions that psychologists have studied most intensively is happiness. Recently economists and neuroscientists joined the party. All these disciplines have distinct but intersecting interests: Psychologists want to understand what people feel, economists want to know what people value, and neuroscientists want to know how people’s brains respond to rewards. Having three separate disciplines all interested in a single topic has put that topic on the scientific map.”
Measuring happiness is mostly done through happiness surveys where people are asked to rate their satisfaction with aspects of their lives. For example, one of the most critical questions asked in the World Values Survey is:
“Taking all things together, would you say you are very happy, rather happy, not very happy or not at all happy?” [source: World Values Survey]
This enables comparisons between sections of the population and internationally such as the sophisticated broad ranging survey measuring subjective well being carried out by the OECD, the Better Life Initiative. The OECD survey acknowledges there’s more to life than the cold numbers of GDP and economic statistics. So they created an index which lets you compare well-being across countries, based on 11 topics they identified as essential in material living conditions and quality of life.
More than 60,000 users of the Better Life Index around the world have shared their views on what makes for a better life and you can share your own index on what makes for a better life and see how you score on it.
In the UK the ONS Office for National Statistics has developed new measures of national well-being, to provide a fuller picture of how society is doing by supplementing existing economic, social and environmental measures. Measuring National Well-Being: Life in the UK March 2015 and another one on International Comparisons, provide a snapshot of life in the UK today across the 10 domains of national well-being. It’s the third annual summary to be delivered by the Measuring National Well-being programme.
The tiny country of Bhutan is a champion of measuring national progress not only through gross domestic product, as economists do, but through tracking Gross National Happiness. The Bhutanese government has been surveying it’s citizens since 1971 on their psychological well-being, health, education, living standards and time use. They also track cultural diversity, cultural resilience, quality of governance and community vitality as well as ecological diversity and resilience.As well as asking people about their happiness in the moment and overall life satisfaction, some psychologists have found more creative ways to measure happiness, including monitoring social media for happy tweets, Facebook feelings and Instagram grins.
If you want to measure your own happiness you can take the numerous multiple choice quizzes available online. They will help you think about where you are across different criteria.
Or you can do that with our chart your life exercise, which you will receive if you join our Changeability Starter Kit. This gives you a quick snap shot of where you are now, and is a good place to start. You can then measure yourself on these scales in a few months time if you want to see if things have changed.
Or if you want a quick multiple choice quiz there’s one on the TIME website.
With the 4 key questions that Edward Diener devised for the Satisfaction With Life Scale in 1980 and has been used as the basis for many studies since. You score yourself on a scale of 1-7 for each orf these statements:
Although it’s quick, convenient and interesting to ask yourself these questions, it doesn’t really go anywhere after that.
So the best way to measure your happiness is to keep a happiness journal where you record how you feel throughout the day. The emotions you experience at different times. Or you can do an overall summary at the end of the day, but isn’t quite so robust as our feelings and emotions change considerably throughout the day.
And that’s the challenge of doing these online quizzes they are literally a snap shot of how you feel in that moment. What you’re after is a more in-depth realistic assessment, if you’re serious about it, by recording your emotions over at least a week.
Hear us talk about all of this and more in this week’s episode of the Changeability Podcast – on iTunes, Stitcher and TuneIn or the player at the top of this post.
So what about you? Do you describe yourself as very happy? Comment below.
If not do you want to do something about it? Listen next week for our tips, actions and techniques on how to be happier.
Thanks for reading or listening – and if you want to help us out please subscribe to the Changeability Podcast on iTunes and leave us a rating and review – it would be much appreciated.
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