What methodologies have been deployed to measure “happiness”?
They can broadly be divided into (1) objective attempts to measure quality of life, which tend to use observational indicators and to focus on society and / or social groups, and (2) subjective approaches to measure “happiness”, which tend to use respondent-based methodology and to focus on individuals.
- (1) Observational Indicators / Non Respondent-based methodologies. The indicators used in these studies were often measures of “unhappiness” such as suicide rate, depression, alcoholism, divorce…
(2) Respondent-base methodologies. How many ways are there to ask “are you happy?”:
- Using scales: “On a scale from 1 to 10 how happy / satisfied with your life are you?
- Using monetary equivalent: “How much money would it take for you to relocate to another state?“
- Using qualitative questions: “If you could go back 1, 5, 10 years ago, what would you change to your life?”, “how optimistic do you feel about the future?“
Using Robert Lane’s definition of “Quality of Life” as “Subjective well-being and personal growth in a healthy and prosperous environment” (“Quality of Life and Persons” in Offer, A. 1996. In pursuit of the quality of life. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press. p.258), one must distinguish between “Happiness Indicators” measuring:
(1) People’s actual feelings of well-being and happiness
(2) the existence of an environment that would theoretically provide people with the opportunity of developing such feelings.