Recently, scientists and psychologists have been looking for a numerical way to measure happiness. Many well-respected organizations and universities have created their own methods, surveys, and questionnaires to measure a person’s happiness levels. However, many problems arise when trying to quantify happiness because happiness is a subjective feeling; each person has their own definition of happiness and each person feels and experiences happiness in different ways.
Most methods of quantifying happiness involve a survey that asks the public to answer a set of questions regarding happiness or satisfaction. For example, the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire consists of 29 statements designed to measure a person’s current state of happiness; the person taking the questionnaire is asked to simply say whether they strongly disagree, moderately disagree, slightly disagree, slightly agree, moderately agree, or strongly agree with the statement. Another survey, the Satisfaction with Life Scale, works in a similar way except it only asks five questions.
The problems with these kinds of surveys are that they only measure happiness at a particular moment in a person’s life, not long-term. Results of these surveys can be skewed if a person is having a bad day or they have a lot on their mind.
The science of quantifying happiness has become increasingly popular, so much so, that political leaders have started to think about possible ways to measure the average well-being of a country or of a city in a way similar to how national inflation rates or crime rates are measured.
This movement was jumpstarted by Bhutan, a small country near the Himalayas, in 1972. Their “formula” to measure happiness consists of four categories: sustainable development, cultural integrity, ecosystem conservation, and good governance.
Efforts have been made to apply Bhutan’s system on a global scale, but its success still remains questionable.
Meanwhile, other systems of measuring and ranking global happiness have been created. For many years, the World Map of Happiness and the World Values Survey have polled people around the world on happiness and their satisfaction with life. After gathering the results, they release a ranking of the happiest nations on the planet with the Scandinavian nations usually coming out on top.
Another system, the Economic Foundation’s Happy Planet Index, which uses the perceived well-being, ecological footprint, and life expectancy of a country to measure a nation’s happiness, ranked Costa Rica as the happiest country in 2012. These results demonstrate that different systems to rank global happiness will yield different results depending on the factors that are measured.
It proves difficult for policymakers to create a generic scale to compare national happiness levels around the world because different people have different ideas as to what constitutes happiness. Additionally, it is difficult for policymakers to set a definition of happiness and delineate factors to be measured that would yield meaningful data, and even if meaningful data is generated, implementing national policies based on a measurement of happiness could prove to be problematic. Trying to raise the national level of happiness might not actually result in bettering a person’s conditions and circumstances of living.
Although attempts to measure happiness on an individual scale have been for the most part successful, it will be a long time before a standard scale to measure happiness on a global level will be implemented.