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  • Raquel Berry

How can we quantify happiness?

World happiness index is an indexation of happiness based on survey results where countries are ranked on ‘happiness’. The respondents are asked to rate their happiness on a scale from 0 to 10.

Firstly, the aim of the report is to encourage policy makers to shift focus towards policies that enhance the well-being of their citizens, as opposed to simply promoting economic growth. Often the focus of several international reports, the International Monetary Fund for example, concentrates purely on national development or government economic growth, which may come of the costs of individual freedoms and well-being.

One of the main advantages of using the World Happiness Index as a living standard indicator over time is that it focusses on the subjective well-being of the person - often overlooked in other indicators, such as GDP - something that is becoming an increasingly important topic amongst discussion in the modern day-in-age. Particularly, the United Nations estimated that “almost one million people die due to suicide every year”, and “in rich countries the biggest single cause of misery is mental illness”, demonstrating the severity and significance in acknowledging mental health. Therefore, by using this happiness index, policy makers can make informed decisions based on evidence-based analysis and influence government strategy to improve the standard of living. An article from United Nations stated that “reasonable investment in mental health can contribute for a better mental health for people”, indicating that if enough attention is given to this matter, then it can easily help move towards a better society. As noted by CNN, happiness involves “generosity, a healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices and freedom from corruption”. The benefit of the index is that it measures these varied factors that are considered to be the basis of happiness and thus, it provides a more holistic approach. The CNN article states, “the report continues to draw global attention around the need to create sound policy for what matters most to people”, highlighting that the World Happiness Report generates public discussion and raises awareness about the importance of well-being, promoting a culture that values happiness and well-being.

Additionally, the World Happiness Index provides the possibility to perform a cross-country comparison, such as Finland compared to Rwanda, to address large-scale problems. An example of this is the Easterlin Paradox, one of the theories that economists use to explain the relationship between happiness and income, which is the idea that happiness rises with average incomes, but only up to a point. Bhutan is an example of a country where the index is used to try to take action to improve living standard; the Bhutanese government has set out four main aspects to the Gross National Happiness: “sustainable and equitable socio-economics development, environmental conservation, preservation and promotion of national culture, and good governance”, according to a TrackingHappiness article. Bhutan is ranked near the top of the GNH Index, but it has one of the lowest GDPs per capita in the world, which showcases the clear difference between the two indicators and the importance of having the world happiness index.

However, subjective happiness on any one day is a major factor that will affect the reliability of the index. On a random day, people’s moods and happiness may change. This may be due to family arguments, the weather, or short-term health issues like headaches or events in the news, but the next day emotions and happiness are back to normal. This will mean the results may not be an accurate representation of their happiness and therefore, the results given won’t show a correct portrayal of the country’s wellbeing, which will inevitably hinder the index number. It is difficult to quantify happiness as people will have different interpretations of happiness correlating with index numbers so it may introduce bias and inaccuracies, compared to other GNI indicators, which are more statistical based. These are consequently easier to quantify and lack bias. There is little evidence to show the impact the World Happiness Index has had as it will vary from country to country. An example is Afghanistan, according to Global Citizen article, where the impact has been limited as the index doesn’t capture economic or material aspects of life that may be possibly more important to many individuals. In the short-term, the World Happiness Index will take a lot of time to conduct due to the sheer amount of data required and thus due to the significant amount of data, it will create an added likelihood of error. In the long-term, it may help to improve the global standard of living and help increase happiness amongst individuals in countries that are the worst-ranked.

Raquel is a guest author and student from Leicester.

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