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Monday, March 28, 2011

A Global Standard -- That Goes Far Beyond "Happiness"

As Carl Bialik wrote in The Wall Street Journal this weekend, "Governments, academics and pollsters are hot on the trail of happiness."

It's true, in the sense that we at Gallup are learning as much as we can about what makes a happy, healthy, productive life.  It's also true that we and academics have already learned a lot about how this information relates to everything from our jobs to our country to hints of discontent at times when things are seemingly getting better. It's also true in the sense that U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron is the latest leader to see the value in collecting such information.

What's not true, however, is that this is just about "happiness."

Read coverage of our work, and that of others, and you certainly might get that sense.  But it's about so much more than that.  It's about the attitudes that translate into behaviors that either move a country forward or set it back.

As our CEO Jim Clifton writes in a comment for RSA: "Lousy leadership and miserable citizens create the wrong economic outcomes. They also create low levels of wellbeing, the metrics of which are often referred to as behavioural economics. These behavioural economic metrics are invaluable because they are instructive insights into the states of mind that people are in before they make good or bad decisions."

He also notes that "very few leaders, however, have data on their citizens’ states of mind."

That's the gap Gallup is trying to fill by surveying people in more than 150 countries around the world about all aspects of their wellbeing. We measure and track every aspect of an individual's state of mind.  And not just because it's incredibly eye-opening.  But because it affects everything else that happens in the world.

Understanding what citizens think and what they perceive is critical to understanding what they ultimately do.

Take for example, the economy.  If people think the economy is getting worse and worry about losing their job, they aren't going to spend money or start a business.  Period.  No matter what classical economics tells us about GDP.

So, we aren't as much hot on the trail of happiness as we are hot on the trail of everything that influences everything that happens.  What's more -- because our metrics are global, we can compare countries to countries, regions to regions, groups to groups, to help us identify the leaders, stragglers, and outliers in our world.

We're taking an important step forward in this effort with the upcoming launch of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index in the United Kingdom.  This project extends the ground-breaking research we pioneered with the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index in the United States.  It will provide a daily measure of wellbeing in the U.K. just like the one that has already yielded so many discoveries in the U.S.

While the U.K. government's effort is commendable in that it recognizes the need, it won't go nearly as in-depth as our extensive list of questions does, and it won't be part of a larger, global wellbeing data set that is comparable across countries like ours is.

We are quite simply providing a global standard with which to measure the state of mind of a civilization.  So while one country's scientific measure of "happiness" may or may not interest you  -- our global wellbeing metrics most certainly should.

Stay up to date our our all of our wellbeing research and discoveries by signing up to receive our wellbeing news via e-mail alert or RSS and also by following our wellbeing blog Thrive.

To learn more about Gallup's global wellbeing research in more than 150 countries worldwide, please contact  

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