Since January 2008, Gallup has surveyed 1000 people a day to gauge their levels of wellbeing. [Confession: We were asked to recommend social capital questions that should be included on this survey.] Gallup plans to continue the surveying indefinitely into the future.
Gallup’s first report came out and was picked up by the press. TIME calls it the *Dow Jones Index of Happiness*. The data is probably going to be less useful on a daily basis: i.e., *happiness off today in late-day profit-taking …* and more useful after months or years of this data has been gathered together.
This aggregated dataset could be used to construct county-level happiness estimates for most counties in the U.S. And then these aggregate happiness measures could be attached to other datasets to see how much individuals’ happiness is affected by those around them. For example, are the same individuals (controlling for education, ethnicity, years lived in the community, income, marital status, etc.), happier or not if they are surrounded by others who are happy. One could imagine that subjective wellbeing is contagious or conversely that if one is a lone misanthrope in a sea of happy neighbors that it heightens one’s depression (in the same way as New Year’s Day is a grim holiday for those who are not happy).
One could also use this aggregated dataset to determine how individuals’ levels of happiness relate to various activities (social activity, political activity, religion, sports participation, etc.).
Along the latter topic, Alan Krueger (a terrific economist at Princeton) and others have some of the most interesting new recent work on happiness. He used the American Time Use Survey methodology and privately gathered through the Princeton Affect and Time Survey (PATS). The individuals whose activities were being recorded through PATS had Palm-like devices and were randomly pinged on different days and at different times of the day and had to report their levels of happiness, what activity they were doing, and who they were doing it with. [I’m glad it wasn’t a picture-phone!] What was unique about Krueger’s data and approach is that he could compare levels of happiness for the same individual across the week. So some people (the Zen Masters or Buddhists) might be pretty happy doing everything from dish-washing to summiting Everest, whereas others are relatively unhappy even if their dream spouse has just said yes to their marriage proposal. The Time Use data enabled Krueger to measure the happiness of individuals relative to each individual’s baseline level of happiness and thus see which activities brought more happiness or less. And the most pleasurable activities (that I can write about) were….
and Sports and Exercise.
[Note: they chart happiness by looking at the percent of the time that happiness feelings in the activity exceeded stress, pain and sadness). On this score religion was highest with 92% of the experiences being pleasurable; pleasure is the inverse of the U-index they report where religion is low with 8% of experiences.]
The full study is called “National Time Accounting: The Currency of Life” and is written with Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman (also of Princeton), David Schkade (UCSD), Norbert Schwarz (U. Michigan), and Arthur Stone (Stony Brook U.). For the results on religion, see especially Tables 5.2.b and 8.3 at the end of the National Time Accounting piece.