Source | World Economic Forum
Happiness may be one of the world’s least controversial things. Who among us doesn’t want to be happy? As Aristotle put it: “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”
When it comes to measuring happiness, though, things get a little stickier and consensus becomes rather harder to maintain.
So just how do we go about it and why do we need to?
What money can’t buy
The United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, noted in 2012 that for too long the world had used Gross National Product (GNP) to measure well-being.
Created in 1937 as a reaction to the great depression, GNP is useful for some things – but, Ban said, hopelessly limited. It does not consider any sense of well-being or contentment within a society.
And so each year, starting in 2012, 20 March has been designated International Happiness Day to recognize the importance of making happiness a goal of public policy.
How do you measure a feeling?
With so much inequality in the world, how can we possibly compare the happiness of the world’s richest and poorest people in a meaningful way? Happiness comes in many different forms and for different reasons. At the same time, many things make people unhappy regardless of where they live: losing a home or a loved one, or going without basic necessities.
Happiness is an aspiration of every human being, and can be a measure of social progress, according to the authors of the 2013 World Happiness Report, one of the first of its kind. They noted that the key to measuring happiness is differentiating between happiness as emotion (“I feel happy”) and as an evaluation of human well-being (“I am happy with my life”).
Their research sought to focus on the latter. Factors such as per capita gross domestic product, healthy years of life expectancy, trust and perceived freedom to make life choices were all considered.