Tuesday, 3 April 2012

World Happiness Report. Edited by John Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey Sachs

World Happiness Report.  Edited by John Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey Sachs

Summary of this Report

When thinking about increasing happiness, one of the most important aspects is measurement. Is there a way to accurately measure people’s happiness, both within and across societies? Chapter 2 discusses the happiness measures currently in use across countries, specifically the Gallup World Poll (GWP), the World Values Survey (WVS), and the European Social Survey (ESS), and asks whether or not these measures can provide valid information about quality of life that can be used to guide policy-making. It considers the questions of the reliability and validity of well-being measures; how happiness can be compared; whether or not there is a happiness set point; and if happiness is “serious” enough to be taken seriously. The chapter argues that regular large-scale collection of happiness data will enable analysis of the impacts of policies on well-being. It concludes that regular large-scale collection of happiness data will improve macroeconomic policy-making, and can inform service delivery.

In order to both measure and improve happiness levels, we must understand what influences these levels. Chapter 3 discusses the causes of happiness and misery, based on 30 years of research on the topic. Both external and personal features determine well-being. Some of the important external factors include income, work, community and governance, and values and religion. More “personal” factors include mental and physical health, family experience, education, gender, and age. Many of these factors have a two-way interaction with happiness – physical health may improve happiness, while happiness improves physical health. An analysis of all these factors strikingly shows that while absolute income is important in poor countries, in richer countries comparative income is probably the most important. Many other variables have a more powerful effect on happiness, including social trust, quality of work, and freedom of choice and political participation.

Chapter 4 discusses some of the policy implications of these findings. GNP is a valuable goal, but should not be pursued to the point where economic stability is jeopardized, community cohesion is destroyed, the vulnerable are not supported, ethical standards are sacrificed, or the world’s climate is put at risk. While basic living standards are essential for happiness, after the baseline has been met happiness varies more with quality of human relationships than income. Other policy goals should include high employment and high-quality work; a strong community with high levels of trust and respect, which government can influence through inclusive participatory policies; improved physical and mental health; support of family life; and a decent education for all. Four steps to improve policy-making are the measurement of happiness, explanation of happiness, putting happiness at the center of analysis, and translation of well-being research into design and delivery of services.

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