Survey says: Happiness is an important metric
Let’s face it: It’s a grim time. Budgets for social services are all on the chopping block. As the gap between rich and poor in America widens daily, poverty rates are soaring. Hunger, once hardly a concern in this world’s richest country, now affects more than 15 percent of us. Given the current conditions, this may not seem like the best time to ask people if they’re happy, but if
Asking the homeless if they are happy? You have got to be kidding, right?you visit a food bank or shelter in the next few weeks, there’s a good chance you’ll see someone with a survey, doing just that.
This survey is all part of a project called the Happiness Initiative, a way of fully engaging Seattle’s residents to see how they are doing in all areas of life —not just income. It’s based on Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index.
Not at all. We are all seeking happiness. It’s what all parents say they want for their children: “to be happy.” The pursuit of happiness is enshrined as a right for everyone in our Declaration of Independence.
So, what do we mean by happiness?
We mean well-being. We mean the conditions that must exist so people are not suffering. We mean people’s ability to meet basic needs like food, water and shelter. To be happy means that you have companionship and social support — someone who cares about you and whom you care about. We want to be certain there are laws and regulations so when someone goes outside they are not entering a poisoned environment. We all have the right to clean, green spaces in which to live and play. Many individuals and families who are homeless or underprivileged are subject to these issues daily. In fact, research has found that hazardous waste sites, municipal landfills, incinerators and other hazardous facilities are disproportionately located in poor and minority neighborhoods, leading to poor environmental conditions and contributing to poor physical health.
In January of this year, Sustainable Seattle launched the Happiness Initiative. Its mission is to work toward a just, healthy and resilient society where all people have equal opportunity to pursue happiness. The Happiness Initiative uses a Happiness Index Survey to measure well-being and sustainability in 10 domains, which researchers have identified as the primary influences on happiness. These include material needs, environmental quality or access to nature, governance, psychological well-being, health, time balance, culture, community, work and education.
An overwhelming number of citizens have taken the comprehensive Happiness Index Survey. As of August 2011, over 7,500 people have completed the online survey, about half of them in the Seattle area. Now we’re taking the survey to even more people, including those who are homeless. Asking the homeless what it will take for them to feel well, to feel they can live safely and have enough has been done before, probably countless times, so why do it again? No one seems to be listening anyway.
Or are they?
In June, the Seattle City Council signed a unanimous proclamation that they would use the survey results to inform future policy decisions and resource allocation in a time of scare resources. The city council’s proclamation acknowledges that measuring people’s happiness or the satisfaction with the quality of their lives is an important tool that will help create not only good public policy but also healthy communities. We’ll be presenting the results and other data as a happiness report card to the city council this fall.
In collaboration with local nonprofits and volunteers, Sustainable Seattle has received funding from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods to conduct outreach to marginalized communities within Seattle. One-on-one surveying has already been completed at the Rainier Valley Food Bank and is scheduled at other locations this fall. Sustainable Seattle has begun to translate the survey and other outreach materials into languages commonly spoken throughout the community.
We’re currently seeking partners to further our work within marginalized communities in Seattle. This work will consist of conducting outreach for the survey, holding a town hall style meeting within these communities and conducting community projects aimed at increasing the happiness within these communities.
The survey is composed of roughly 75 questions and takes 10 – 12 minutes to complete. When you complete the survey, you will receive an instantaneous well-being score for each of the 10 domains and will be able to compare your score with the median results from others who have taken the survey. Overall data from this survey will be analyzed and provided to media, but your individual data will not be revealed to others. The survey asks for demographic data, needed to analyze overall results, but not for your name, address or other personal information. The privacy of participants will be protected.
Tim Flynn, Laura Muskanski and John de Graaf
The Happiness Initiative