Can happiness be measured?

by Zubeida Mustafa

NOT widely noticed internationally, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution in July declaring “happiness was critical in advancing economic growth and social progress”. The “pursuit of happiness” was described as a “fundamental (universal) human goal”.
Psychologists have for long admitted that a happy person is a productive worker. Medical science has found a happy person a healthier person too. But can you measure a person’s happiness to determine the level of his health and development?

This quest for a perfect yardstick to measure and compare the prosperity and poverty of nations has been unending. One would, however, agree with the basic principle incorporated in the July resolution that a “balanced approach” to economic growth can alone lead to sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and well-being of the planet”. That at least implies that economic growth has to come first to lead man to happiness.

The economists’ penchant to devise a perfect yardstick to measure the development and prosperity of humankind is now reaching ridiculous extremes. Initially, the Gross Domestic Product was considered enough to determine the prosperity of nations. But it was soon realised that wealth by itself did not translate into prosperity. After all, resources could be unequally distributed and its benefits could be skewed. Inequality could be the biggest barrier to progress.

Hence other factors were explored that could give a better assessment of the quality of life of the people and the development of society. In the 1980s, the PQLI (Physical Quality of Life Index) was devised that looked into life expectancy at age one, literacy and infant mortality to evaluate the progress and well-being of a population.

This was followed by the Human Development Index developed 20 years ago by the Pakistani economist Mahbubul Haq and the Nobel Prize-winning professor of economics at Cambridge Amartya Sen to factorise literacy, life expectancy and income into prosperity.

Two years ago came the Multidimensional Poverty Index, a creation of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, to determine the extent of poverty at the household level taking into account education, health and living standards. The UNDP that produces the HDI every year incorporated this in its index.

In the 20th report, published in 2010, the UNDP introduced another innovation — the index for happiness. This should make many sit up. The Human Development Report states that happiness is an important factor in development. It claims that happiness is experienced along a good-bad continuum and can be measured. But isn’t that too subjective? How can you compare the happiness of one individual with that of another when the two are worlds apart temperamentally, environmentally and in terms of access to opportunities?

To evaluate happiness, the HDR’s happiness table measures Overall Life Satisfaction (0 being least satisfied and 10 most satisfied) in terms of satisfaction with personal well-being (job, health and standard of living). Elements of happiness are measured under three heads, namely, purposeful life, respect and social support network.

The findings for Pakistan that ranks 125 out of 169 in HDI are quite interesting. Its happiness score is 5.4 (in a scale of 0-10) which is pretty high, 77 per cent of the people are happy with their jobs (when many are unemployed), 75 per cent with their health and 53 per cent with their standard of living. Meanwhile, 72/73 per cent (men/women) said they have a purposeful life and 89/81 per cent said they are treated with respect.

This would obviously be good news for the government. If our citizens are that pleased with their life then there is little for our rulers to feel concerned about. If you look at the table measuring the satisfaction level of people in specific areas of their lives, the report tells a different story altogether. We are told that the perception of safety is only 44 per cent (much lower than many other countries in our region), only 36 per cent are satisfied with the healthcare system and 54 per cent with education.

It is plain that happiness and satisfaction are not easy to measure and even more difficult to compare. In our own case, surveys and statistics pose a challenge because of their subjective nature and the general inability and unwillingness of people to record information accurately. This was confirmed by a functionary of the Federal Bureau of Statistics whose responsibility it is to collect data for household surveys and inflation. He told me that people are reluctant to talk to his staff and tend to be very vague when recording figures. This lack of precision is a national trait.

Then there is also the reliability of the data collectors most of whom are not always credible. This is the case with most Third World countries. Is it then worth spending so much time, effort and resources on such an exercise which would not really help in the formulation of economic and social policies?

The information such surveys yield can be misleading and result in the distortion of policies. Steven Levitt, an economist and author (with Stephen Dubner) of Freakonomics points out that Adam Smith, the founder of classical economics, was “entranced by the sweeping changes wrought by this new force (modern capitalism)”. Yet Smith was not interested only in the number game. “It was the human effect, the fact that economic forces were vastly changing the way a person thought and behaved in a given situation” that fascinated him. There is need for such analysis today.

Source: Dawn

15 thoughts on “Can happiness be measured?”

  1. " —–It is plain that happiness and satisfaction are not easy to measure —"
    GNH ( Gross National Happiness) has concepts and ideals which suggest that beneficial development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other.
    The four pillars of GNH are the promotion of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance.
    At this level of generality, the concept of GNH is transcultural.
    Researchers have defined these four pillars with greater specificity into eight general contributors to happiness- physical, mental and spiritual health; time-balance; social and community vitality; cultural vitality; education; living standards; good governance; and ecological vitality.
    These concepts are based upon the empirical research literature of happiness, positive psychology and well being.

    A second-generation GNH concept, treating happiness as a socioeconomic development metric, was proposed in 2006 by Med Jones, the President of International Institute of Management. The metric measures socioeconomic development by tracking seven development areas including the nation's mental and emotional health.[7] GNH value is proposed to be an index function of the total average per capita of the following measures:

    Economic Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of economic metrics such as consumer debt, average income to consumer price index ratio and income distribution
    Environmental Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of environmental metrics such as pollution, noise and traffic
    Physical Wellness: Indicated via statistical measurement of physical health metrics such as severe illnesses
    Mental Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of mental health metrics such as usage of antidepressants and rise or decline of psychotherapy patients
    Workplace Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of labor metrics such as jobless claims, job change, workplace complaints and lawsuits
    Social Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of social metrics such as discrimination, safety, divorce rates, complaints of domestic conflicts and family lawsuits, public lawsuits, crime rates
    Political Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of political metrics such as the quality of local democracy, individual freedom, and foreign conflicts.

    The above seven metrics were incorporated into the first Global GNH Survey.[8]

    {{{ All this is posted on Wikipedia !!!! }}}

    These values of GNH may build up statistically as time goes on and ideas are sharpened.

    ((( This is Part No. 1 , of my comment )))

  2. { continued from Part 1 —-}

    However , there is **SUBJECTIVE** angle to happiness ,too .

    Jonathan Haidt is an American psychology professor. He wrote the book The Happiness Hypothesis in which he combines ancient philosophical and spiritual knowledge with the latest happiness research. His main teaching is the ethics of transcendence (living in God). Psychologically, it is shown that a person has in his brain an area for experiences of God. The enlightened one is happier than an unenlightened. Religion makes you happy, if not lived too dogmatic and intolerantly.

    Haidt sees himself as an atheist, who does not believe in God, but advocates for reasons of inner happiness and health positive spiritual values, "If we rely on balanced wisdom – old and new, eastern and western, liberal and conservative – we can choose directions in our life that lead to satisfaction, happiness and a sense of purpose."

    Further , —" hedonistic pleasure is not the ultimate goal of human life, and that happiness or "the good life" therefore requires more than maximisation of pleasure. —" ; says the Wikipedia on * The Philosophy of Happiness*. It goes on to write on positive happiness : " Sonja Lyubomirsky is one of America's happiness researchers. She is a professor and wrote the international bestseller The How of Happiness.[25] She wondered what one can do if one want to get a happy life. She accepted that, after the current state of research about 50 percent of a given human's happiness level is genetically determined. About 10% of happiness is affected by external living conditions. But 40% of happiness can be influenced by the mind of a person.

    After Sonja Lyubomirsky the secret of lasting happiness is that we turn our attention mainly to those 40% and constantly maintain our inner happiness. We should exercise regularly, avoid negative thoughts and encourage positive thoughts, maintain our social relationships and have a positive task in our lives. Many studies demonstrate the positive effects of meditation on our happiness, "Meditate every day. Begin with five minutes and increase to up to 20 minutes a day."

    Sonja Lyubomirsky developed a twelve-point program for personal happiness. The main point for her is gratitude. We should focus on the positives in our lives and be grateful. We should live according to principles such as optimism, joy, helpfulness, forgiveness, good social relationships, good health care and a positive task if we want to achieve a happy and fulfilling life. "

    Now, this does not apply to the have-nots of South Asia , but some people of the upper middle and above ,are getting richer externally and internally unhappy. So one has a dichotomy there , certainly !!!

    The Gift Within

    Jesus said, ‘…the kingdom of God is within you’ Luke 17:21
    The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field when a man found it, he hid it again, then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought it. Mat 13:44

    What brings happiness to you? May be good food and drink? Could be plenty of wealth? What kind of food and what kind of drink and how much wealth? All these things are out side of us, short lived and do not bring lasting joy. What brings joy to one does not give joy to the other. So happiness is not outside of us but within us.

    To find the treasure within one must understand the short lived happiness of the outside world and the senses cannot be pleased forever.

    Hafiz-e Shirazi said " Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you. "

    The Dalai Lama says : " What is the meaning of life? To be happy and useful. "

    " I cannot believe that the purpose of life is to be "happy." I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all, to matter and to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all.
    – Leo C. Rosten "

    To sum up the subjective aspects of ***HAPPINESS *** :
    " [Peace] is the highest and most strenuous act of the soul, but an entirely harmonious act, in which all our powers and affections are blending in a beautiful proportion, and sustain and perfect one another. It is more than the silence after storms. It is as the concord of all melodious sounds … an alliance of love with all beings, a sympathy with all that is pure and happy, a surrender of every separate will and interest, a participation of the spirit and life of the universe…. This is peace, and the true happiness of [humanity]
    – William Ellery Channing "

    {{{{ Happy Dipavali to everyone !!!
    My little pet dog looses her happiness during Diwali ____fire-crackers terrify her, so she is hiding her remote corner *inside* the house . Birds also get petrified of loud noises !!
    Their happiness lies in routine calmness }}}}}

  3. A well analyzed and balanced write up by Zubeida and Ahmad41 has done equally well by extending the analysis of topic.

    Apart from this there is a socio happiness also. Everyone want smile from all in any celebrations and everyone tries to look like a happy and smiling person. I happened to join in a marriage of my relatives daughter while his elder daughter could not get a suitable match. During the celebration the elder daughter remained happy and present herself as a smiling and happy person. But after two days she broke up, wept over her fate and blamed parents for her sorrows.

    This theory can easily be understood from the following words of a ghazal sung by Ghazal King Jagjit Singh and is equally popular in Pak also:

    "Itna Jo Tum muskara rahe ho woh kya hai gam jise chhupa rahe ho" (my wording may be wrong).

    The above lines applies to all and sundry on this earth. This concept should also been accounted for by Global Organizations. Inner and real happiness gives us more and more…..

  4. The write-ups referred to by Isa Daudpota and the comments by Ahmed and Bajaj certainly add a new dimension to what I have written. But neither of these experiences of various experts, in my opinion. create a measure to compare and evaluate the happiness of different people. As Ahmed points out what is meat to one person might be poison to another. Besides the extent of happiness in the people of one country described in one scale might be quite different for the people of another country. So how do you compare them. What you can compare to a degree of accuracy is the happiness felt by an individual with the happiness he felt, say, yesterday or in another set of circumstances.

    There is also the chicken or egg first debate that also comes in. Should a person who is providid development gains happiness automatically? Or a happy person can attain development?

  5. Zubeida you are right that every comment will take the topic to a new dimension. It is too difficult to measure happiness. I have already explained that elder sister remained happy during marriage but internally she was not.

    The topic is very intersting and needs further analysis. I am assured that you will get full material to covert this blog into a BOOK. And that BOOK should sell like a hot cake. My best wishes……

  6. very objective and well researched article about the "subjective" intangible matter like happiness. it like measuring utopia and idealism, which are feelings and hence can be felt for variety of reasons , hence they can't be made indicators of social progress

    let us stick to mehboob ul haqs human development index (HDI) and improve our lot in education and health that is at the bottom in south asia and pakistan is competing with countries like afghanistan and somalia

    a moment of introspection!

  7. What about looking at the NEGATIVE aspects ? Is the graph of suicides rising ? If yes , does this indicate severe unhappiness ?
    Unhappiness does not drive every one to suicide .

    Are the people who are experiencing *terrorism* of various kinds , not unhappy within themselves about their future ?
    What kind of newspaper and media reporting makes a person sad ?

    And what about the basic fact : When men become angry , they shout and turn aggressive; but the same situation drives ladies to *tears*. .
    but *anger* over the same situation

  8. What constitutes subjective *happiness* ??

    What makes you happy? There are over 50 things

    London, October 29
    Finding money in an old pair of jeans, having a picnic in the sun, getting flowers or chocolates from a loved one or a thank you card in the mail are some of the things that make people feel happy, a study has revealed.

    A person being told that he or she has lost weight, climbing into bed with freshly washed sheets and seeing an old couple hold hands also help brighten a person's day, says the study of 3,000 people conducted by Three Barrels Brandy.

    Sunshine was found to be one of the major factors for happiness. Waking up to a sunny day, sitting in the sun, having a picnic in the sun, and driving with the car windows down on a sunny day all appear in the top 20, the Daily Express reported.

    “We can be having a terrible day at work when a quick thank you from the boss can pick us up and make us feel great. Similarly, we could be stuck in traffic when our favourite song comes on the radio and makes us forget about the nightmare daily commute. Small gestures from friends and family can also work wonders when you're feeling a bit down in the dumps,” a research spokesman said. Most people feel at their happiest at around 6 pm Saturdays, the research revealed. — IANS

  9. Development practitioners and policy makers are perpetually concernced with measuring and manufacturing happiness – an intangible, subjective feeling state that differs so much from person to person and from time to time that it is nearly impossible to measure. My concern is the obsession with quantification – measurement and control of human feelings, subjectivity and behaviour. The view that anything that is significant and worthwhile in human existence is measurable and quantifiable and all that is quantifiable is signficant and worthwhile, has gained currency among social thinkers. This philosophy, known as positivism in the social sciences, is dangerous for it seems to suggest that what is not measurable is not signficant and that everything in life can be reduced to measurable and controllable quantities. I have a problem with the measurement approach as life is too complex, changing and contradictory to be subjected to Big Brother's control freak tendencies.

  10. as in unfreedoms of sen, its easier to see, feel and perhaps even measure the lack of happiness from the presence of poor health – just like doctors do for assessing depression. Negative social interactions matter much, e.g. anger, hostility, fear. Say this with personal experience of my own condition and of close friends and family. Suicide is only the last resort of being unable to cope with life.
    Sadly, capitalism through consumerism has increasingly identified happiness with acquisition of things, rather than sharing and cooperating. Less can always be more!
    On interpersonal comparability or its impossibility, consider what we accept everyday as socially legitimate comparisons – the level of income. Asides from the fact of varying prices – including access – there is a fundamental issue of substantially differing outcomes from similar incomes. Its beyond the "capability" issue explored by Sen in his earlier work. "Justice" is important even to the corrupt and corruptible as we are witnessing in the populism of the anti-corruption movements and the "occupation" movement. Its neither greed nor envy but rather an immense feeling of social exclusion. Sadly, the reference point is up rather than down.

  11. It's really difficult to give any definite answer to this discussion. Happiness comes and goes; no one can rely on it. Mostly external factors are so strong that they change the complete inner scenario of a person.

    Ms Zubieda Mustafa's writings always give me a unique kind of happiness, although mostly she writes on issues and problems.

    My life experience is "happiness is hidden behind patience".

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  13. Too much exercise can be harmful. Without proper rest, the chance of stroke or other circulation problems increases, and muscle tissue may develop slowly.

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