Our research plan and a new hire

1 January 2020

Our research falls into two streams. First, theoretical research into the nature and measurement of subjective well-being (SWB).

Priority questions for 2020 include:

  • Which measure of well-being should be (theoretically) preferred –  life satisfaction, happiness, or something else?
  • To what extent are measures of subjective well-being valid –  do they capture what they are supposed to capture?
  • When are subjective well-being scales comparable – can we assume one person’s 7/10 is, in expectation, the same as another person’s 7/10?

Second, applied research which asks: how can resources be best used right now to increase worldwide well-being? Our three projects for the year are:

  • A detailed analysis of several life-improving interventions – those working on poverty, mental health, and physical health –  assessed in terms of their impact on SWB measures.
  • An evaluation of mental health interventions to identify the most cost-effective charities tackling depression and anxiety in low- and middle-income countries. This is a continuation of the work started by our team of volunteer researchers.
  • Writing or extending shallow reports into cause areas such as mental health and pain.

More information can be found in our research agenda.

Joel McGuire joins the team

We are delighted to announce that Joel McGuire has joined the Happier Lives Institute as a Research Analyst. He will be working mainly on our applied research projects.

Joel is a big fan of using R and novel data sources for social science research. His past research includes creating an index to measure the geography of prospection and exploring factors that contribute to the persistence of goal pursuit. In the realm of happiness, he’s particularly fascinated by the role of social capital and trust in personal and societal well being.

Joel’s arrival means that HLI now has four permanent staff: Michael Plant (Founder and Director), Clare Donaldson (Chief Operating Officer), and Justus Baumann (Research and Community Manager). We continue to be supported by a dedicated team of volunteers. Read more about our team.

What we’re reading

Can We Be Happier?: Evidence and Ethics

Richard Layard argues that the goal for a society must be the greatest possible all round happiness, and shows how each of us can become more effective creators of happiness, both as citizens and in our own organisations. Read an excerpt and interview in The Guardian.

Evaluation of the Action for Happiness course

A randomised control trial shows that the Action for Happiness course, which is run in hundreds of communities across the UK and around the world, results in a 1-point increase in life-satisfaction 2 months after the course ends.

The Science of Meditation

Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson cut through the ‘mindfulness’ hype, highlighting the most rigorous scientific findings on how meditation rewires our brains to improve focus, resilience, equanimity, and compassion. Also see John Halstead’s post on the Effective Altruism Forum about the strength of the evidence on meditation as a treatment for anxiety and depression.

Is there a loneliness epidemic?

Despite the popularity of the claim, the team at Our World in Data find there is surprisingly no empirical support for the fact that loneliness is increasing, let alone spreading at epidemic rates.

The Third Pillar

Economist, Raghuram Rajan, concedes to the common notion that capitalism (and the state) erodes communities which leads to populist backlash. He proposes that economics should rethink its treatment of localism.