If You're Happy & You Know It... Measure It


If you are what you think, then All Analytics readers are a happy bunch. The majority of readers who responded to a recent Quick Poll think there is at least a chance happiness can be quantified and measured.

When asked about the prospect of measuring happiness, nearly as many readers said "absolutely" as "nope" -- and nearly 50 percent said "maybe."

In 2012, UCLA Professor Rakesh Sarin co-authored a book with his former graduate student and co-investigator, Manel Baucells, called Engineering Happiness: A New Approach for Building a Joyful Life. The book quantifies happiness mathematically with a simple formula: Happiness equals Reality minus Expectations.

Sarin devised measuring units -- which he calls "happydons" [ed. note] -- so individuals can rate their moods on a 24-hour "happiness seismograph" and improve their "sum total" of well-being.

Sarin acknowledges that the method is "not really precise," but it does allow people to quantify how they feel at a particular moment. The total of those moments adds up to happiness, or something less than that, he suggests. For example, say you had a headache. You might blame the headache for the loss of three happydons. To counterbalance, you engage in an hour of relaxation and gain three happydons.

Money buys only a little happiness, Sarin explained in a UCLA Magazine interview:

[Sarin] cites a study showing American millionaires residing in ostentatious mansions are barely happier than African Masai warriors living in huts. And he points to $315-million Powerball winner Jack Whittaker, whose lottery bonanza led to jail, rehab, and despair. The most surprising finding is that in spite of the amazing progress we have made in the last 50 years, our happiness level has not budged much.

Sarin isn't the only one who thinks happiness can be measured. In fact, Daniel M. Haybron, author of Happiness: A Very Short Introduction, maintains "measuring happiness is no more mysterious or fraught than measuring depression and anxiety. And it should be no more controversial."

Mathematicians at the University of Vermont developed a tool that acts like a mood ring for the Internet. The tool analyzes 50 million tweets each day, and matches those tweets against a database of the 5,000 most frequently used words in four different bodies of digital work. Each word is assigned a happiness value on a scale of one to nine. The scale climbs on "happy days" and falls on sad ones.

The Journal of Happiness Studies is devoted to scientific understanding of subjective well-being. It focuses on both cognitive evaluations of life such as life satisfaction, and affective enjoyment of life, such as mood level, as well as things like job satisfaction and feelings about the perceived meaning of life.

Happiness has become such a topic of interest that researchers have formed a framework for studying it:

  1. Happiness is made up of pleasure, engagement, and meaning.
  2. It involves daily positive emotions and a global sense that life is worthwhile.
  3. People can accurately report their own levels of happiness.

So, what do you think now? Do you agree with most All Analytics readers that happiness is measurable -- or do you still think it's too nebulous to quantify?

Noreen Seebacher,

Noreen Seebacher, the Community Editor of Investor Uprising, has been a business journalist for more than 20 years. A New York City based writer and editor, she has worked for numerous print and online publications. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, the New York Post, New York’s Daily News, The Detroit News, and the Pittsburgh Press. She co-edited five newsletters for Real Estate Media’s GlobeSt.com and served as the site's technology editor.

She also championed the commercial real estate beat at The Journal News, a Gannett publication in suburban New York City, and co-founded a Website focused on personal finance. Through her own company, Stasa Media, Noreen has produced reports, whitepapers, and internal publications for a number of Fortune 500 clients. When she's not writing, editing, or Web surfing, she relaxes in an 1875 Victorian with her husband and their five kids, four formerly homeless cats, and a dog.

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Re: Happydons to You
  • 8/20/2013 5:38:23 PM
NO RATINGS

Much like what the definitions of "is" is, happiness most likely can be defined and thus measured for a particular definition. But then the questions becomes is that really what "happiness" means? There has to be lots of opinions on that which probably change from decade to decade.

Re: Happydons to You
  • 8/19/2013 6:00:48 PM
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..

Louis writes


While I find this analysis of happiness to be very fascinating,  I am somewhat skeptical that there is any real value in trying to quantify happiness as it can change from instant to instant for some.


Also, lots of organizations seem to try to come up with their own measures of "happiness" using all kinds of criteria. The results are often contradictory.

And 


 

I can't help but think this is some kind of "New Age Mood Ring".


 

HA! I'm with ya there...

 

Re: Happydons to You
  • 8/19/2013 2:40:52 PM
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So cynical you are!

Re: Happydons to You
  • 8/19/2013 2:14:10 PM
NO RATINGS

I doubt it. Most people would lie about it anyway...

Re: Happydons to You
  • 8/19/2013 9:59:46 AM
NO RATINGS

I was just suggesting that perhaps the researchers ought to have tried taking into account if any respondents were on antidepressants. Or maybe they did?

Re: On second thought
  • 8/19/2013 8:10:11 AM
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I agree - humans are, if anything, unpredictable

Re: On second thought
  • 8/19/2013 12:37:36 AM
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@Louis: Sounds interesting mate but still I cannot figure out how emotions are being captured and measures. What kind of measuring criteria do the use ? Also emotions are not programmed, so its virtually impossible to measure and predict the next move in most scenarios. Anyway in short term factors the next move can be predicted but not on long tern things.             

Re: Happydons to You
  • 8/18/2013 11:52:57 PM
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What do you mean Beth?

Re: Happydons to You
  • 8/16/2013 11:27:30 AM
NO RATINGS

I guess the question is whether researchers accounted for contrived happiness or not. 

Re: Happydons to You
  • 8/16/2013 7:46:10 AM
NO RATINGS

With so many people on antidepressants, is the data really valid anyway?

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