Luis Gallardo

Measuring Happiness: Can We Quantify an Emotion in Order to Capture It?

Luis Gallardo
Measuring Happiness: Can We Quantify an Emotion in Order to Capture It?

Happiness is an essential part of-of health and well-being and has flown under the radar for a very long time. Other factors, such as prosperity and different quality of life factors have taken precedence. However, in the last decade or two, a concerted effort to measure and improve overall happiness. The below methodologies can be used by individuals or governments to determine where they rank globally and where they may be able to improve their lives or their country.

Measuring Happiness

Happiness can be challenging to define and even more difficult to measure. A person’s happiness over a period isn’t merely an average of each moment of happiness. Happiness comes events that are both recent and emotionally impactful. More recent events, whether positive or negative are more likely to be weighted more heavily. A few very emotional events will weigh more heavily than many low impact events. There are currently three significant happiness measurements at the national level, and we’ll go into each below. The UN General Assembly passed resolution 65/309 in 2011 which invited countries to measure their citizen’s happiness and use that data to help direct government.

World Happiness Report

The World Happiness Report is a ranking of world happiness by country, published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations. John Helliwell, Richard Layard, and Jeffrey Sachs edit the report, which is based on a Gallup survey called the World Poll. In 2017, Norway has been found to have the highest national happiness. America has fallen from 3rd in 2007 to 19th in 2016 due to a reduction in social services and a significant increase in corruption.


The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development publishes a document called How’s Life? Those charts aspects that lead to and take away from a better life. In addition to investigating these issues, it also provides a country-based breakdown, indicating the good and bad in each country along with changes to the quality of life. Dr. Carrie Exton, a policy analyst at the OECD, heads this publication, a policy analyst at the OECD. The Better Life Index also uses this data, which is a tool that allows users to compare countries on a variety of factors that impact the quality of life. It currently has 11 factors including housing, income, governance and life satisfaction. Now, Norway leads the overall rankings, with the United States coming in 9th.


The country of Bhutan has created and promoted the idea of Gross National Happiness, starting in 1972. In more recent years, the UN has supported the GNH philosophy to its members. While not widely spread to other countries yet, the theory and process of measuring GNH are central to the government of Bhutan. The Centre developed the GNH for Bhutan Studies, headed by Karma Ura. The GNH is so vital to Bhutan that is is the primary progress indicator used, in place of Gross Domestic Product. Because it is not as widely used, there are no comprehensive rankings of countries at this time.

Once we’ve realized that we can quantify happiness, the question becomes -- what do we do with this information? Individuals, scientists, counselors, and business owners may find that attending an event like The World Happiness Fest will help them learn to put happiness to work in daily life, so that other places in the world can soon look into the idea of a Gross National Happiness index as well.