How do you measure happiness?

How do you measure happiness?

Happiness guru Meik Wiking breaks down the concept of subjective wellbeing and how it contributes to one’s happiness.


Traditionally, we have used income as a proxy indicator of individual happiness and GDP per capita to measure our progress as nations. We have basically been saying that money equals happiness. But while money may matter, it is not the only thing that contributes to our happiness.

Happiness is subjective, and working with subjective measures is difficult, but not impossible. We do it all the time when we gauge levels of stress, anxiety, and depression – which are also subjective. At the end of the day, it’s all about how we as individuals perceive and experience our lives.

What I care about in my research is how you feel about your life. That is what counts. I believe you are the best judge of whether you are happy or not. How you feel is our metric – and then I try to understand why you feel that way. What are the common denominators for happy people?

Happiness can mean different things to different people. So, the first thing we must do is to break the concept of happiness down into its component parts. When we measure happiness, we for example distinguish between being happy with your life (How happy are you overall?) and being happy in your life (How happy did you feel yesterday?).

What are the common denominators for happy people?

Once we have broken happiness down into different elements, we follow groups of people over a long period of time to see how changes in their lives impact on these elements of happiness. If I were to follow you and the rest of the passengers on this plane, some significant changes are bound to happen to each individual over the next decade. Some of you will fall in love and some will fall out of love; some will be promoted, and some will be fired. Over the next ten years, highs and lows are guaranteed. We are bound to witness both victories and losses. The question is, how do those events and changes in life circumstance impact on the different dimensions of happiness? What is the average impact on people’s life satisfaction from doubling their income or getting married? That is what we try to understand.

My work has allowed me to talk to people from all four corners of the earth, from Copenhagen mayors to British cab drivers and to the Minister of Happiness in the United Arab Emirates. My main takeaway from those conversations is that we are not so different or divided when it comes to happiness. Sickness, unemployment, and loneliness undermines happiness wherever you are from. Love, close friends, and a sense of purpose in life improve happiness wherever you are from.

And no matter where you are from – we are all in pursuit of happiness. That’s why it’s so important to keep on researching happiness to try and understand the elements that create good conditions for a happier life.

Photo Robert Collins on Unsplash


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