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The Happiness Equation: Three ways we can actually measure happiness

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Most of us tend to think happiness as an unmeasurable, subjective, and ultimately fleeting concept. However, for the last thirty years or so, researchers have been collecting data and studying what makes people tick.

Nick Powdthavee is one such researcher. As a Professor of Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School he has spent his career trying to understand the happiness equation. He explains:

“As economists and behavioural scientists we’ve come to the conclusion that happiness is measurable and therefore quantifiable, but also there is more than one dimension to what we consider when we think about happiness.

“I’ve been working to understand these dimensions of happiness as we know it and how they correlate with certain factors in our lives.”

The three dimensions of happiness:
1. The evaluative dimension

“This is information-based appraisal of one’s life which people judge the extent to which their life so far measures up to their expectations and resembles their ‘ideal’ life. It tends to be correlated with our socio-economic statuses - our expectations versus our reality,” explains Professor Powdthavee.

“We measure this dimension by asking people the following question: ‘How satisfied or dissatisfied are you with your life overall?’ A score of zero means they are completely dissatisfied and ten – they are completely satisfied.”

 

Things that correlate positively with this dimension of happiness:

  • Social relationships
  • Marriage
  • Good health
  • Being richer than other people

Things that correlate negatively with this dimension of happiness:

  • Unemployment
  • Divorce/separation
  • Poor health
  • Being poorer than other people
2. The affective dimension

“This relates to our daily, emotional experiences which can be thought of in terms of the frequency and intensity of positive and negative emotions and moods that we experience in our daily lives. It can fluctuate from minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, depending on what activities we are engaging in and who we are engaging with,” says Professor Powdthavee.

“We measure this dimension by asking people a battery of questions such as ‘how often did you smile today?’, ‘how often did you feel anxious today?’ and ‘how often did you feel angry today?’

 

Things that correlate positively with this dimension of happiness:

  • Time spent socialising with friends
  • Walking in a green space
  • Having sex

Things that correlate negatively with this dimension of happiness:

  • Time spent commuting
  • Childcare
  • Housework
3. The eudaimonic dimension:

“This is associated with eudaemonia which is the act of living a life of virtue in pursuit of human excellence. It relates to the idea of ‘virtue living’, ‘human flourishing’ or ‘doing what is meaningful’. It tends to be correlated with pro-social behaviours and helping others.

“We measure this dimension by asking people: ‘Overall, to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile?’ A score of zero means not at all and ten means completely worthwhile.”

Things that correlate positively with this dimension of happiness:

  • Volunteering
  • Spending money on others

Things that correlate negatively with this dimension of happiness:

  • Spending time doing things for ourselves
  • Working in meaningless jobs

    BSF logo

    Professor Powdthavee will be talking about measuring happiness at the British Science Festival, which is being held at the University of Warwick this year.

    'In pursuit of the happiness equation' will take place on Wednesday, September 11 from 12:00 - 13:00

    Book tickets here.

    The British Science Festival runs from the 10 -13 September at the University of Warwick.

    For more information or to book tickets visit britishsciencefestival.org

    Published:

    Wednesday 4 September

    About:

    Prof Nick PowdthaveeNattavudh (Nick) Powdthavee is Professor of Behavioural Science at WBS. He specialises in well-being (or happiness) economics and behavioural economics, and has published over 40 articles in these two broad areas. He is the author of the popular science book called "The Happiness Equation: The Surprising Economics of our Most Valuable Asset".

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