Academic journal article Journal of Social Research & Policy

The Science of Happiness for Policymakers: An Overview

Academic journal article Journal of Social Research & Policy

The Science of Happiness for Policymakers: An Overview

Article excerpt

Abstract:

Given the limitations of traditional economic indicators, several national governments and multinational organisations are investigating new measures of progress and well-being to inform policymaking, with some researchers (e.g., Layard, 2005; Diener & Seligman, 2004; Marks & Shah, 2004; Frey & Stutzer, 2002) calling for scientific measures of happiness to be among those investigated (Diener et al., 2009; Dolan & White, 2007; Stiglitz, Sen & Fitoussi, 2009). In this article, we review the literature relevant to the questions of whether and how the science of happiness should be used to inform policymaking. First, we provide a brief overview of the history, methods, and rationale behind happiness science and its use in public policy, and identify the most promising scientific methods for measuring happiness. Following this, several criticisms of these measures are discussed. The main criticisms addressed here include: that survey measures of happiness are too insensitive, that we cannot know what measures of happiness are measuring, and that the wrong kind of happiness is being measured. Lastly we provide recommendations for the role that suitably-improved measures of happiness could play in policymaking, and what steps would need to be undertaken to suitably improve these measures. We conclude that it would be appropriate for governments to measure happiness, and for civil servants to use those data to inform policymaking. However, much complex interdisciplinary and international research is required before it would be appropriate for the science for happiness to play such a role in policymaking.

Keywords: Well-Being; Wellbeing; Happiness; Subjective Well-Being; Public Policy; Science of Happiness.

Introduction

Given the limitations of traditional economic indicators, several national governments and multinational organisations are investigating new measures of progress and well-being to inform policymaking (Diener, 2009a; Michalos, 2011; Stiglitz, Sen & Fitoussi, 2009), with some researchers (e.g., Layard, 2005; Diener & Seligman, 2004; Marks & Shah, 2004; Frey & Stutzer, 2002) calling for scientific measures of happiness to be among those investigated (Diener et al., 2009; Dolan & White, 2007). These traditional economic measures of per capita production, income, and wealth do not take all relevant production, income, and wealth into account, and fail to capture the value of our relationships, health, and happiness (Stiglitz, Sen & Fitoussi, 2009)-all of which are typically viewed as important for well-being (Helliwell, 2006). Many alternate measures of well-being have been developed over the years to address this problem, and governments have slowly incorporated some of them into the policymaking process at various stages (see Diener et al., 2009).

Over the last few years, the debate about whether and how happiness should be measured and used as an indicator of progress, and to inform policymaking, has intensified (Bok, 2010; Dolan & White, 2007). This article briefly reviews the history of this debate, some of the current challenges of using measures of happiness for policymaking, and some of the possibilities for meeting these challenges.

First, we describe how a point has been reached at which measures of happiness are being seriously considered by policymakers. We outline the most promising methods for measuring happiness. Following this, several important criticisms of these measures are discussed and some are argued to be challenges that need addressing before measures of happiness can usefully be employed by policymakers. The main criticisms addressed here include that survey measures of happiness are too insensitive, that we cannot know what measures of happiness are measuring, and that the wrong kind of happiness is being measured. Lastly we provide recommendations for the role that suitably-improved measures of happiness could play in policymaking, and what steps need to be undertaken to suitably improve these measures. …

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