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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Understanding Gallup's Global "Happiness" Research

A lot has been written this month about recent Gallup findings on "happiness" around the world.

Some of the coverage is based on a paper written by Gallup Senior Scientist Ed Diener, Gallup Chief Researcher Jim Harter, and others, which appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

That paper is not based on one survey or one study but rather it is an in-depth analysis of one of dozens of subjects Gallup continuously tracks worldwide: wellbeing. It's a concept that goes beyond simple happiness for people and wealth within societies to uncover what really makes certain people and communities thrive while others struggle and suffer.

Here's what The Washington Post pulled out as the key findings of that paper: "Pulling in the big bucks makes people more likely to say they are happy with their lives overall -- whether they are young or old, male or female, or living in cities or remote villages, the survey of more than 136,000 people in 132 countries found. But the survey also showed that a key element of what many people consider happiness -- positive feelings -- is much more strongly affected by factors other than cold, hard cash, such as feeling respected, being in control of your life, and having friends and family to rely on in a pinch."

That is the crux of it. Money does matter, but so do many other things. Examining the issue in a slightly different way, looked at Gallup's March report on wellbeing worldwide -- based on both life evaluation and daily experiences -- and compiled a table of "the world's happiest countries." These rankings are based on the most recent Gallup survey from each of 155 countries.

The rankings confirm that achieving "wellbeing" is based on much more than how rich a country or person is. That's why it's also just one piece of what Gallup is studying and tracking around the world. Put simply, we're continually surveying about everything -- economic and social -- that makes individuals and societies thrive.

Our research has shown that only by meeting first order needs, such as law and order and food and shelter, and then higher order needs, such as good jobs, can maximize societies' brain gain and GDP growth. We've organized these needs on a path for building the best society possible. Notice that elusive and amorphous "wellbeing" is right in the middle. It includes everything from personal health and economics to social networks and several measures of "happiness."

We believe leaders can't maximize the potential of their societies until they measure and truly understand their individual country's areas of strength and weakness and then track progress toward improvement.

So, when you read about Gallup's global findings, either on or elsewhere, remember that each little nugget is just one ingredient of the larger recipe for true wellbeing worldwide. We're on it, measuring and analyzing, in every country we can, and will continue to bring the findings to you.

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