Promoting Happiness at Home

My hometown of Seattle, in the northwest corner of the U.S., has given me yet another reason to love it.

Inspired by work done to promote Gross National Happiness in Bhutan, a group of Seattle residents have launched a Seattle Area Happiness Initiative.

Like the folks at the New Economics Foundation, the group in Seattle realizes that economic metrics alone don’t really capture how a society is doing overall. So, their goal is to popularize a new set of metrics and then use these metrics to promote policies that contribute to residents’ happiness.

The Initiative uses a survey to measure things that actually make people happy. It collects information on 9 categories of well being – categories that are way more relevant to day to day life than abstract economic metrics:

1. psychological well-being;
2. physical health;
3. time or work-life balance;
4. social connection and community vitality;
5. education;
6. access to arts, culture and recreation;
7. environmental quality and access to nature;
8. good governance;
9. material well-being.

Anyone may take the survey – not just residents of Seattle. So, test yourself!

I did, and I thought it was really interesting. As soon as I finished the survey (which is anonymous and confidential), I received an instantaneous well-being score for each of these categories. Not only did the survey let me see how I’m doing compared to others around the world, but it also reveals those areas which aren’t working so well. That’s important, because once we identify the factors which undermine our wellbeing, we can work for changes – individually as well as at the policy level – to make things better.

My survey results rated high on having a sense of purpose, trusting my community and access to opportunities to learn. For those, I am grateful. But the survey also showed that I worry about the environment and want more time with friends. This inspired me to invite some over for dinner, not just to talk about helping the environment, but also to relax together and build community. I did this and you know what? The evening made me happy.
This survey takes 20-30 minutes to complete and you cannot stop and start over, so do the survey when you have a period of free time.

If this stuff intrigues you, as it does me, then gather up some friends in your community to talk about launching a happiness initiative there. The Seattle folks have created a bunch of resources for getting started, which are all free to use and share.

If you do take the survey, or start discussions in your community about increasing happiness and well-being, please tell us about it. We’d like to know what you discover along the way. What changes in your life, and in our local and national policies, would make you happier?