Sunday, September 10, 2017

Happiness Movement Frequently Asked Questions

The happiness movement represents a paradigmatic shift where the well-being, happiness and sustainability of people and our planet matter most. Many do not understand what the happiness movement is or even that such a movement exists. Here are presented frequently asked questions and short answers for the visionaries working in the happiness movement.

Happiness can’t be measured, can it?

The issuance of the World Happiness Report first in 2012, and then again in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017 proves not just that happiness can be measured, but also how to measure it. Further clarifying this issue is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation (OECD) Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being. Thus, the question is not whether happiness can be measured and if it can be measured subjectively (yes) but what to measure.

·      World Happiness Report:
·      OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being:

Isn't happiness too “fuzzy” to measure?

Happiness is defined and measured in three different ways; feelings (affect), eudaimonia (the good life, or thriving), and satisfaction with life and the conditions of life.

These three aspects provide different information that informs different issues and reveals different implications. Affect can tell us how a specific environment or situation impacts a person in the moment. For example, are people happier or more anxious working remotely or in the office; when commuting to work on the bus or in their car; or when married or not, etc? Eudaimonia tells us what motivates people, and how resilient we are. For example, do you have a sense of purpose in your life? So you feel like your life is worthwhile? Are you optimistic about your future? Satisfaction with Life and the Conditions of Life gives us information about our remembered experience, which is fundamental to understanding why and how we will make decisions. For example, will people perceive a neighborhood or city safer or less safe, find one job satisfying or less satisfying than another, etc.

Resources and Links:
·      Diener, E., Wirtz, D., Tov, W., Kim-Prieto, C., Choi. D., Oishi, S., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2009). New measures of well-being: Flourishing and positive and negative feelings. Social Indicators Research, 39, 247-266.
·      Kahneman, D. (2010). The Riddle of Experience Versus Memory. TED2010.
·      Kahneman, D., Fredrickson, B., Schreiber, C., & Redelmeier, D. (1993). When More Pain is Preferred to Less; Adding a Better End. Psychological Science. 4 (1993): 401-405.

How do you measure happiness?

To measure how someone is feeling (called affect by scientists), you simply ask.  That the feeling of happiness and other feelings can be measured through questions and that one can get a response that one can rely upon to understand a person’s happiness is backed by science (Frey & Luechinger, 2007; Pavot & Diener, 1993). When asking about feelings, it is important to ask about one feeling at a time.  Diener et. al. (2009) developed an affect scale that includes 12 feelings: positive, negative, good, bad, pleasant, unpleasant, happy, sad, afraid, joyful, angry, and contented.

That said, it is up to each person to define what happiness, sadness, joy, anger, anxiety, calm, etc, is to them. Your sense of being happy may be very different from the person next to you or on the other side of the world, but both definitions are caught by the term happiness.  In the United Kingdom (UK), the Office of National Statistics (ONS) well-being survey (formerly called happiness survey) includes questions for happiness and anxiety, and, following the UK ONS, the Happiness Index (Happiness Alliance – does as well.

To measure eudaimonia, one commonly uses what is called a flourishing scale.  The Happiness Index’s flourishing scale asks questions about areas of optimism, positivity, purpose, engagement, accomplishment, and worthiness. The Happiness Index’s flourishing scale is based on questions from the OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being and work by Huppert and So (2011). It also includes the same question about worthiness that is in the UK ONS’ well-being survey.

To measure satisfaction with life, one can use the Cantril Ladder question, asking whether this life is the best or worse possible life, as well as a question the question “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life nowadays?”  These two questions together in a survey represent the best practice to date. Both are included in the Happiness Index. 

Satisfaction with Life’s circumstances begs the question of what are life’s circumstances, also called domains. In the nation of Bhutan, where Gross National Happiness is measured using a survey instrument, the domains measured are: government, economy (standard of living), environment, culture, community, health, education and time balance in addition to measures for satisfaction with life, affect and eudaimonia. The OECD Better Life Index measures the domains of housing, income, jobs, community, education, environment, civic engagement, health, safety, work-life balance as well as measures for life satisfaction. The Happiness Index measures the same domains as Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index but includes the area of work. 

Resources & Links:

·       Better Life Index:
·       Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index:
·       Happiness Alliance Happiness Index Methodology:
·       Diener, E., Wirtz, D., Tov, W., Kim-Prieto, C., Choi. D., Oishi, S., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2009). New measures of well-being: Flourishing and positive and negative feelings. Social Indicators Research, 39, 247-266.
·       Frey, B. & Luechinger, S. (2007). Concepts of happiness and their measurement. Hessen, Germany: Metropolis Verlag
·       Huppert, F., & So, T. (2011). Flourishing across Europe: Application of a new conceptual framework for defining well-being. Social Indicators Research, 110, (3), 837–-861.  doi: 10.1007/s11205-011-9966-7
·       Pavot, W. & Diener, E. (1993). Review of the Satisfaction With Life Scale. Psychological Assessment,5(2),164-172.

Happiness is a frivolous matter and pursuit, isn’t it?

Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence” – Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics.

We know this intuitively when we say that all we want for our children is that they are happy and healthy. It is important to understand that Aristotle used the term eudaimonia as synonymous with happiness. Today the term eudaimonia (eu is Ancient Greek for good, daimon is Ancient Greek for spirit or soul) can be interpreted as flourishing, or reaching one’s full potential. It is important to note that this interpretation of happiness encompasses the care of others, connection to community, and civic duty. 

Doesn’t prioritizing happiness put pleasure seeking above all else?

Today, science identifies four approaches to happiness: hedonism, eudaimonia, chaironic happiness, and flow.  Hedonism can be defined as seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, English philosophers, advocated for governments and society to seek the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people based on the hedonistic definition of happiness.  Chaironic happiness is a sense of openness and connection to God, spirit nature or a higher power. Philosophers ranging from Thomas Aquinas to C.G. Jung explored and advocated for chaironic happiness.  Flow, defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is an experience of optimal experience or oneness with what one is doing. Aristotle posed that eudaimonia is the goal for government, society and personal life.  Today’s definition of happiness within the context of the happiness movement is most closely aligned with eudaimonia, but this definition encompasses aspects of hedonism, flow and chaironic happiness.

Happiness is not, and should not, be the purpose of government, correct?

The purpose of government is to secure the happiness of its people, The underlying assumption that governments globally have adopted since WWII is that strong economic growth, personal income and wealth and high consumption rates are highly correlated to happiness and there is a strong causal link). This assumption was the basis for the systems and institutions resulting from the post WWII Bretton Woods conference: International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, pegging currency to the US dollar, the World Trade Organization, and others.  This assumption is partially but not completely true. Nations with higher per capita incomes have happier people, but income, consumption and economic growth are causally related to happiness only up to a certain level of personal income, commonly called the Easterlin Paradox (based on longitudinal data collected by Richard Easterlin), and loosely correlated to happiness (O’Donnell et. al., 2014).

The assumption that income and economic growth are causally related to happiness breaks down when considering income distribution. This was one reason for the call for nations to adopt wider measures of well-being (i.e. happiness) by French President Sarkozy in 2009, based on findings of the Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, commonly known as the Stieglitz Report. Scientific research, such as that recently conducted by Andrew Clark and others (see post about Origins of Happiness) indicate that there are many other factors, including social connection, strong communities, sense of safety, rewarding employment, and mental health, that have as high or higher correlation values to happiness, thus pointing directions for governmental policy that promote these goals as well as the goals of economic growth.

Resources and Links:
·      Stigliz, J., Sen, A. & Fitoussi. J.P. (2009, September). Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress. Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress.
·       Easterlin, R. (1974). Does Economic Growth Improve the Human Lot? In P. David & R.. P. & Reder, R. (Eds.), Nations and Households in Economic Growth: Essays in Honor of Moses (pp. 89–-125).  New York, NY: Academic Press, Inc.
·       Easterlin, R. (2001). Income and happiness: towards a unified theory. The Economic Journal, 111(473), 465-484.  doi: 10.1111/1468-0297.00646
·       Easterlin, R. (1995). Will raising the incomes of all increase the happiness of all? Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 27,(1), 35–-48. doi:10.1016/0167-2681(95)00003-B
·      O’Donnell, G., Deaton, A., Halpern, D., Durand, M., & Layard, R. (2014). Wellbeing and Public Policy. Legatum Institute.
·      Blog post on Origins of Happiness:

What governments are measuring happiness?

Thirty-nine of the forty OECD member countries are measuring happiness, according to Martine Durand, Director Employment Labor and Social Affairs and Chief Statistician at the OECD. Many other countries that are not member of the OECD are also measuring happiness in terms of affect, eudaimonia, satisfaction with life and the circumstances with life (see the essay Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, link below).

·      Martine Durand
·      Essay compiling nations measuring happiness: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness - which countries and measuring happiness and how.

There are no examples of happiness policy, are there?

Bhutan has promulgated many policies informed by and with the goal of the happiness of the nation. See examples in the essay, Happiness in Public Policy, for a compilation of some of these policies. That said, these examples come from one small nation in which the culture is homogenous and the country and population is quite small compared to most other nations. The challenge today is how to use happiness data to inform policy, and the need is for a government to take the lead, as identified by the EU BRAINPOoL Report in 2015.

·      Happiness in Public Policy essay on happiness policies
·       Whitby, A., Seaford, C., Berry, C., & BRAINPOoL Consortium Partners. (2014, March 31). BRAINPOoL project final report: Beyond GDP: from measurement to politics and policy. BRAINPOoL Deliverable 5.2, A collaborative programme funded by the European Union’s Seventh Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under Grant Agreement No. 283024. World Future Council. Retrieved from

If the purpose of government is the happiness of citizens and residents, then government will dictate actions, force people to be happy, and punish those who do not say they are happy, right?

The purpose of government is to secure the conditions that enable people to become or pursue happiness and to live a good life, not to dictate behaviors or actions or force people to be happy. What brings happiness for any one person is as unique as each person. When government aims to increase the happiness of their people, its job is to assess and understand people’s state of happiness and identify the policies and programs that will best provide opportunities for people to take action or choose a behavior that they believe will increase their happiness.

What is the difference between happiness and well-being?

Some nations are using the terms synonymously, others use the term well-being in lieu of happiness, and some propose that happiness is used to describe subjective well-being measured through surveys (questionnaires, polls, etc.) and well-being to describe the use of objective metrics. 

Won’t happiness distract governments and people from the ecological disasters from climate change, ecosystem destruction, political and physical water shortage, soil depletion and other ecological threats that we are facing? And what about social justice and inequalities? Won’t happiness mean that some people are happy at the expense of others?

The happiness movement represents a wider understanding of individual and national wellbeing that includes the domains of our environment and society, and many other domains listed above.  This is why the measurement tools for happiness cover so many domains. This data is also helping us understand how issues such as ecological health, social support, income equality, meaningful employment, and many other aspects of life, not considered when relying upon a single domain or a single economic measure such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), affect us. Happiness data also reveals enlightening information about different groups of people, and help point the way for policy that secures equitable opportunities for all people’s happiness. 

Learn more about the Happiness Movement:

Monday, July 24, 2017

Working WIsdom for Global Change

Last month, in preparation for a conference in Assisi, Italy, home of St. Francis, the Happiness Alliance asked newsletter friends, the Ad Hoc Happiness and WEllbeing Movement Group (convened at the 2012 UN High Level Meeting Happiness and Well-being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm),  people on Quora and others the question: What are your key recommendations for transformative global change based on spirituality and sustainability?

The answers, along with wisdom gathered from the conference, are presented here:

What is working?
Spiritual ceremony in community divested of language and rites that separate, and that focuses on commonalities and connections to all that is spiritual in us.
What is being called for?
Religious experience and institutional orientation, process and delivery that gives opening to a spiritual experience regardless of belief or dogma.
Religious and spiritual, a-spiritual and contra spiritual leadership to forge connections based on commonalities and develop traditions and ceremonies that transcend identification with a belief system or creed.
Spiritual and religious ceremony and institutions connect and integrate love and care for our earth, oceans, all beings, and in particular the ecosystems, animals and people who are suffering in us.
Integration of spiritual and religious experience that connects and integrates love and care for all in all other areas (government, education, business, non-governmental organization (NGOs), etc.).
What can individuals, communities, or organizations do?
Bring ceremony into private and public life (for example, mindfulness practice before meetings, indigenous ceremony to open public events, process and outcomes guided by spirituality and values, etc.)
Raise awareness about the need for spiritual ceremony (being the change you want to see and speak about it).
Provide non-denominational or non-dogmatic and belief based modules for institutions to access and experience spiritual ceremony.
Use spirituality as a means to measure the success of projects, to assess the wellbeing of people and care for the earth, and to empower action for sustainability, social justice, peace, and all other work for wellbeing of people and other being and health of our ecosystem.
Hold religious ceremony in nature and to restore nature through dire
Petition for eco and community restoration through direct action, petition and symbols.  

What is working?
Science-based understanding of status and trends of problems and threats to our earth and peoples on it; and identification of interventions to stave disasters, heal ecosystems and societies, and implementation of some interventions at individual, community, national and international level.
What is being called for?
Interconnected and heart (adding to the intellect) based  (i.e. Integral) understanding of the problems and threats facing our earth and us and the integration of integral, integrated, holistic, and interconnected ways into interventions already developed and development of integral interventions.
What can individuals, communities, or organizations do?
Develop new narrative and experience that celebrate and grow love and an experience based knowledge of oneness with each other and our earth.
Adapt current interventions and innovate interventions.

What is working?
Local politics and local government.
What is being called for?
Taking back the political process from the corporation control of campaigns and elected officials, special interests, and other corruption of the democratic or other participatory government process and institutions.
Campaign finance reform.
What can individuals, communities, or organizations do?
Engage and support local political activities that are not entangled in any way with corporate finance.

What is working?
New free or very inexpensive education and learning programs and opportunities, in person and online (apps, you tube, websites, TED talks, etc).
What is being called for?
End of corporate control of education and innovation of new ways to bring in support and resources including money to support operations.
Re-democratization of higher education and equitable access to education for all people, particularly girls & women, muslim youth, and people trapped in urban poverty.  Update our education system though shifting the mindset and underlying world view about what education is for education based on self inquiry, discernment, meta cognition, gratitude, compassion and care for all.
What can individuals, communities, or organizations do?
At conferences, summits, and other knowledge sharing events hold youth panels
Participate in and innovate ways to provide learning opportunities.
Offer experience based, service learning, and job training opportunities.
Find ways to be in empathetic relationship with those who can't afford education; teaching in prison, teaching in poor urban environments, involving the police force, etc.  
Participate in education in Africa.

Transformation of political systems
Our world view drives our behavior
Sanctification of nature, honor the Divine on every corner,
Indigenous wisdom of people and the planet
Preserving culture and language
Gender as Mother Earth and

What is working?
Metrics drive policy, business and personal lives, and beyond gross domestic product (GDP), also called happiness or well-being, metrics, which aim to get us off the singular reliance on GDP (and economic growth and consumption) by government, profit by business and wealth or income by people, are in use by governments, researchers and communities around the world.
What is being called for?
The use of beyond GDP metrics by communities and local governments to assess the wellbeing of peoples (and differences among people); inform and secure the circumstance in life that provide equitable happiness, well-being, sustainability and resilience for all; and share practices in ways that support greater learning and application by government, business and people of wider measures of wellbeing.
What can individuals, communities, or organizations do?
Use happiness and well-being (beyond GDP) metrics at a community level and encourage local government to use beyond GDP metrics in lieu of GDP.
Raise awareness and support efforts to supersede the use of GDP metrics with happiness metrics.
Evolve happiness (beyond GDP) indicators to measure interconnected and universal value-based spirituality.

What is working?
Local economy, slow food and ecological businesses are providing ways for people to redefine ways to interact with business.
What is being called for?
Childhoods without the influence of commercialization of a child’s development and mentality.
What can individuals, communities, or organizations do?
Take logos off clothing and other articles.
Ban advertising to children.  

What is working?
Earth Charter and the Sustainable Development Goals (and other efforts) encompass a holistic perspective to our earth and what it means to be a part off the earth and have spurred the birth of sustainable business, and, increasingly government.
What is being called for?
Earth jurisprudence whereby protection and restoration of the ecosystems, human rights, indigenous culture and communities is protected by law.
End of biopiracy that strips indigenous people of culture and resources.
Transition from looking to nature as a resource to use to looking to nature with the goal of  restoration.
What can individuals, communities, or organizations do?
Creation of blueprint of model policies, regulations and laws for governments to consider when promulgating policy and laws for holistic sustainable nations.
Creation of model constitutional language for protection of earth, culture, community and other areas of sustainability and wellbeing.
Use of the earth charter as a checklist for business product decisions.
Promote the joining of Charter for Compassion and similar efforts in your city.
Bring spirituality and values into SDG and other UN institutions.
Issue an Apology to the future.

What is working?
Sustainability instutions informing higher education (AASHE, etc)
Education, from primary to higher, in nature, on farms, in gardens.
What is being called for?
Transformation of education systems for integrated and interlinked disciplinary education; and a purpose of happiness, sustainability and spirituality in education.  
Campuses with farms on campus and around campuses, sourcing food from the local farms and serving local food.  
Education that teaches all aspects food systems (including small farming, food delivery, no food waste, composting etc), installing renewable energy, food justice, local indignation culture, ecosystem sciences, etc.
End of university culture in which students are called customers
What can individuals, communities, or organizations do?
Spread and evolve curriculum in and for nature that reconnects us to the knowledge of being of and for the earth.  
Adoption of all education institutions of a healthy, just and sustainable world as the primary goal of education, from education to financial investment.
Creation of practices and lessons learned for transforming campuses and education institutions for use by students and others.

What is working?
Celebrations and honoring of  of sustainability, happiness, Mother Earth,and other aspects of our work through declarations of celebratory days (Earth Day, International Day of Happiness, etc)
What is being called for?
Joy and fun work in the sustainability, spirituality, wellbeing and happiness movement.
Allow students, and all people, to express grief.
What can individuals, communities, or organizations do?
Do our work in ways that allow and create fun.
Leadership that publicly shares feelings making it socially acceptable to others and investment in integrating into all institutions the ability to share feelings, not to sequester feeling in therapists offices.

What is working?
Innovative information technology is solving global, cultural and personal problems. For example language teaching apps are preserving and restoring indigenous languages, closed loop built environment energy and water systems, and grief processing artificial intelligence programs.
What is being called for?
Information technology that develops our compassion, spirituality, sustainability of our earth, social justice, happiness and wellbeing.
Guidelines for the creation of technologies that are brought to market.
What can individuals, communities, or organizations do?

Learn how to use and develop technology that develops our compassion, spirituality, sustainability of our earth, social justice, happiness and wellbeing.