In celebration of Happiness Happens Month, we will feature a few of our books that are relevant to the meanings and manifestations of happiness. In Happiness: A Revolution in Economics, Bruno Frey discusses the potential of happiness research (the quantification of well-being) to answer important questions that standard economics methods are unable to analyze. Here is an excerpt from Happiness that reveals the most common methods that happiness researchers use to measure individual well-being.
Asking People: Global Evaluations of Individual life Satisfaction
This approach seeks to capture happiness by asking a representative sample of individuals about their overall satisfaction with their lives…Nearly all of the empirical work so far undertaken in economic happiness research has been based on representative, large-scale sampling of individuals’ global evaluations of their life satisfaction.
Experience Sampling Method (ESM)
This approach collects information on individuals’ experiences in real time in their natural environments (Csikszentmihalyi and Hunter 2003; Scollon, Kim-Prieto, and Diener 2003). It is designed to deal with some of the shortcomings of global satisfaction surveys.
A representative selection of individuals are supplied with a beeper or a hand-held computer and are asked at random times to give quick answers to a battery of questions with regard to positive and negative affects. Respondents are also asked to state the intensity of their feelings. This electronic diary seeks to practically apply Edgeworth’s (1881) idea of measuring utility with a “hedonimeter” that captures immediate experience. Happiness can then be calculated by the aggregation of these instantaneous statements of affect.
Day Reconstruction Method (DRM)
This method collects data describing the experience a person has on a particular day through a systematic reconstruction undertaken the following day (Kahneman et al.2004b). It relies on “time budgets” to capture how much time individuals spend in a particular activity. It is a reasonable approximation to experience sampling.
…The U-Index is defined as the fraction of time per day that an individual spends in an unpleasant state. An episode is unpleasant if the most intense feeling the individual experiences in that episode is a negative one. The U-Index relies on the observation that the dominant emotional state of most people most of the time is positive. Hence, any episode during which a negative feeling occurs is a significant occurrence.
A quite different measuring approach to approximate utility in a quantitative way consists in scanning individuals’ brain activities. It relies on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which tracks blood flow in the brain using changes in magnetic properties due to blood oxygenation (Camerer, Loewenstein, and Prelec 2005; Zak 2004; Fehr, Fischbacher, and Kosfeld 2005).