Are you happy? How many times did you smile yesterday? How often to you feel excited? Are you content, or do you find yourself feeling frequently bored, sad or depressed? According to a report this week from the National Academy of Sciences, gauging happiness is more important than cold hard cash when it comes to deciding which matters really affect our day to day lives.
Assembled by the academy which advises the government, a panel of economists, psychologists and other experts have recently recommended that federal statistics and surveys – which normally deal with income, spending, health and housing – include a few extra questions on happiness as well.
“You want to know how people are doing? One of things you may want to do is ask them,” said panel chairman Arthur Stone, a professor of psychology at New York’s Stony Brook University.
Over the past decade, these types of questions have shown to be valid scientifically
For example, economists have something they call the “misery index” which adds the unemployment and inflation rates, but doesn’t include how people feel. If you want to know misery, the question to ask is “how much suffering is going on,” he said.
The panel suggests a series of questions to measure daily happiness and general well-being, asking how often you smiled, were stressed, laughed or were in pain. Example questions ranged from a simple yes-no “Yesterday, did you spend time with friends or family?” to a more complex 1-10 rating for “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?”
In terms of collecting happiness data, the United States government “is a bit of a laggard” behind other industrial nations, said John Helliwell, an economist who co-directs an institute that studies well-being at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
Overall as a nation American’s are pretty happy with 87 percent of us considering ourselves ‘very happy’, or ‘pretty happy’ in 2012. But we lag far behind No. 1 Denmark, a host of northern European countries, Canada, Israel and Mexico. The United States ranked 17th in a world happiness ranking report directed by Helliwell.
When governments and academics study happiness they find that money isn’t everything. Many of the richest countries, including the United States, weren’t in the Top 10 in self-reported happiness in the report.
“Having no money is terrible for everything,” said Graham, author of several books on the economics and measuring of happiness. But after people make “a comfortable amount of money,” it doesn’t add too much to happiness.
That’s what a study last week in the journal PLoS One found. It used worldwide surveys and found that as people made more money worldwide they got happier — but only to a point. That point is just shy of $36,000 a year per person, or $144,000 for a family of four.
Once people reached that point, happiness measurements level off and even go down ever so slightly, said study lead author, Eugenio Proto, an economist at the University of Warwick. According to the study, in general, people in the U.S. passed that “bliss point” a few years ago, however federal income figures don’t show nearly that high a household wealth level.
Happiness studies, Helliwell said, “keep reminding you that there is much more to life than income and housing.”
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