January 21, 2011

Happiness Index

From So Are You Happy, Seattle?
The dead of winter, in Seattle, during tough economic days doesn't seem the time or place to be poking around in people's psyches.
You may as well sit down for lunch at a nursing home and ask, "How's the food?" You're gonna get an earful.
But Sustainable Seattle Executive Director Laura Musikanski thinks it's "a great time" to ask people how happy they are.
"We're in a recovery phase," she told me the other day. "When you've hit rock bottom and you're ready to head back up, it's a great time to think, 'Well, maybe we'll do something different.' "
So the nonprofit is trying to gauge the smiles on our faces with The Seattle Area Happiness Initiative, which Musikanski says is the first such effort in the country.
The Happiness Index began in Bhutan back in 1972, and countries around the world are starting to look to this sort of index to put a finger on the pulse of their nation. Sustainable Seattle has put up a survey as part of the research, and the article included a link to the site. The survey asks questions in nine domains, or areas, including psychological well-being, physical health and social connection. I took the survey this afternoon, and was a little surprised at what I found.  My scores are below. As far as I can tell, the scores in bold take into account the numbers within the same section.

Satisfaction With Life score: 64
Highest: 100  Lowest: 0  Median: 68

Positive Affect score: 57
Highest: 98  Lowest: 0  Median: 61

Overall Wellbeing score: 60
Highest: 99  Lowest: 0  Median: 65


Time Balance score: 50
Highest: 100  Lowest: 0  Median: 43


Interpersonal Trust score: 83
Highest: 100  Lowest: 0  Median: 67

Community Participation score 17
Highest: 100  Lowest: 0  Median: 42

Social Support score 82
Highest: 100  Lowest: 0  Median: 82

Social and Community Vitality score: 61
Highest: 100  Lowest: 0  Median: 62


Health score: 52
Highest: 100  Lowest: 0  Median: 67


Psychological Wellbeing score: 54
Highest: 100  Lowest: 0  Median: 76


Material Wellbeing score: 54
Highest: 100  Lowest: 0  Median: 69


Culture and Education Access score: 45
Highest: 100  Lowest: 0  Median: 50

Inclusion score: 63
Highest: 100  Lowest: 0  Median: 74

Cultural Vitality score: 54
Highest: 96  Lowest: 0  Median: 62


Confidence in Government score: 50
Highest: 100  Lowest: 0  Median: 50

Institutional Confidence score 57
Highest: 97  Lowest: 0  Median: 47

Rights and Freedoms score 71
Highest: 100  Lowest: 0  Median: 71

Social and government Vitality score: 59
Highest: 95  Lowest: 0  Median: 56


Ecological Vitality score: 46
Highest: 92  Lowest: 0  Median: 50

From the survey results page: "In interpreting your scores, it is important to think of the scores relative to one another- which dimensions received higher scores and which received lower scores. This provides a general profile of the relative strengths and weaknesses of these factors in your own life."

I am not too surprised at the overall happiness score as I am still a work in progress after the last couple of years. The time balance score doesn't make much sense since I answered that I have more time than I need. The next section about trust and support seems dead on, but the health score is surprisingly low. None of the rest seem too out of whack.

It is always interesting to take these sorts of tests, regardless of the results. They make you answer difficult to quantify questions to try and put a score on a fuzzy concept like 'happiness'. It is certainly more detailed than the casual question you might respond to at a party. I am sure that most of us would respond to the casual question with a score higher than we really believe.

As the article points out, it is somewhat more valuable to see score averages for larger populations. It would be interesting to compare results from a few years back or in the future when the economy isn't as bleak, and compare winter to summer for those places prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder (perfectly acronymed as SAD). And as the article's author commented (who also suggested Dry January), "Doesn't help that I'm at midlife and not drinking this month."

Interested in your score? The survey takes about 20 minutes. It asks for your zip code, so you won't throw off any Seattle results if you live elsewhere.

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