Update on our plans

30 April 2020

We hope you are keeping safe and well during this challenging period. We’ve been pleased to see that the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on well-being have been discussed prominently in the media and academia.

Our director, Michael Plant, wrote a commentary with Peter Singer arguing that it is necessary to make difficult trade-offs when deciding when to lift the lockdowns, and that using subjective well-being measures would be the best way to weigh up the impacts on incomes, unemployment, mental health, and many other factors, as well as the number of deaths.

A team of wellbeing experts, including the former head of the UK civil service, has since published a working paper doing such an analysis, to which Michael contributed.

Update on our plans

We recently published an update on our research plans on the Effective Altruism Forum.

Our strategy has developed significantly since we published our launch post in June 2019. While we continue to be interested in mental health, we are not just a charity evaluator for mental health interventions. We see ourselves as a ‘meta’ org conducting global priorities research. We believe that using subjective well-being could significantly improve our ability to measure what matters, and therefore have an impact on both short- and long-term prioritisation.

We currently have a £25k funding gap until the end of 2020. This gap does not include hiring another researcher this year, which we would like to do. If you are interested in donating, please visit our website or email michael@happierlivesinstitute.org.

Read the full update

The impact of cash transfers on subjective well-being

Cash transfers (CTs), are among the most extensively studied and implemented interventions in low- and middle-income countries, with a large body of evidence assessing their impact on physical health and economic well-being. However, there has been no systematic review of the growing research on how CTs affect measures of mental health and subjective well-being.

Working with social scientists at Oxford University, HLI will be conducting a systematic review of published and unpublished literature of CTs’ impact on well-being over the period 2000-2020. This will provide empirical evidence to inform CT policy, implementation, and research.

We have registered a protocol describing the methodology we will use for the review. We expect to publish our findings within the next three months.

Read the protocol

Welcome to Sid and Caitlin

We’re excited to welcome Sid Sharma and Caitlin Walker to the team as research interns until June. They will be working on our cause area reports for pain and mental health, respectively.

Sid is a junior doctor in Perth, Australia with an interest in population health and cultivating environments to enable people to live fulfilling lives. He has a Fulbright Scholarship to undertake a Master of Public Health at Harvard University in 2020.



Caitlin has a degree in Biological Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge. She has interned at UNAIDS and is part of a team developing an app for school education (Climate Science).



What we’re reading

The Nordic Exceptionalism: What Explains Why the Nordic Countries Are Constantly Among the Happiest in the World?

The final chapter of the World Happiness Report 2020 finds the most crucial steps towards building happier societies are, “Institutionally, building a government that is trustworthy and functions well, and culturally, building a sense of community and unity among the citizens”.

The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions

Jason Hickel illustrates how development aid given to the Global South is hugely outweighed by the reverse transfer of resources due to the economic system. The sections on the history of the global economy, international trade, development aid, colonialism and Western-backed coups were particularly eye-opening.

The War for Kindness

Jamil Zaki argues that an individual’s capacity for empathy (sharing, understanding, and acting on others’ feelings) is not fixed, and can be improved. He provides some unusually well-written accounts of how expanding empathy can address some of our more complex social problems, and argues that the future of humanity hinges on our capacity to increase our circle of concern. It is a well argued perspective to a general audience through a manner that is as heavy on evidence as it is writing in an emotionally evocative manner.