Our 2020 annual review and new research priorities

26 April 2021

The Happier Lives Institute is searching for the best ways to measure and improve global well-being; we conduct global priorities research using the lens of subjective well-being.

Following our founding and incubation in 2019, 2020 was our first full year of research and operations as an organisation. Over the last couple of months, we’ve been reflecting on our progress and speaking to stakeholders (you can read GiveWell’s write-up of our conversation with them here).

In this post, we’re excited to share our 2020 annual review, which sets out those reflections and our plans for the future, our new research agenda, to announce that we’re hiring, and to mention a couple of other things we’ve been involved with.


How is our research making a difference?

In 2020, we sought to address the most important questions on our research agenda and to develop our capacities as an organisation that conducts careful and action-relevant research. Our aims were (1) to build the case for using subjective well-being as an outcome measure in impact evaluation and (2) to investigate whether using this new approach would indicate new priorities for the effective altruism community.

Our annual review reflects on the progress we have made, the outcomes of our research so far, and a summary of our plans for 2021 and beyond.

Read our annual review


How have our priorities changed?

We’ve also published an updated research agenda and context. This sets out the broad, interdisciplinary area in which our work sits and then specifies the research priorities within that: where additional research seems more (or less) useful, as well as where we expect to focus our efforts in the next one to two years. Our current research priorities fall within three core research projects. Area 2 is our main focus and where the majority of our effort will go.

Area 1: Foundational research into measuring well-being

  • Examining how best to convert between different measures.
  • Investigating how to compare existence to non-existence using subjective well-being scales.

Area 2: Applied research to evaluate the most cost-effective ways to increase well-being

  • Estimating, in terms of subjective well-being, the impact of potentially highly-effective interventions, including: psychotherapy for common mental disorders; cataract surgery for blindness; deworming tablets to improve lifelong earnings.
  • Setting out how different moral assumptions—about what well-being is, the badness of death, and population ethics—alter those cost-effectiveness estimates and may alter the priorities.

Area 3: Understanding the wider context of global priorities

  • Exploratory research into the plausibility and implications of the longtermist paradigm, the idea that the primary determinant of the value of our actions today is how those actions influence the very long-run future.

Read our 2021 research agenda and context


Come and work with us

We’re expanding our team and we’re excited to advertise the following vacancies:

Deadline for applications: 23 May 2021

We’re also planning to offer some paid Summer Research Fellowships. This is an opportunity to contribute to our research agenda and work with the team for 6-10 weeks this summer. We’ll be publishing more details about these in the coming weeks but if you’d like to express interest now, please share your details with us in this short form, and we will let you know when applications open.

Other links you may be interested in…

Michael appeared alongside Mo Gawdat, Laurie Santos, and Emily Esfahani Smith to discuss whether lower expectations lead to more happiness.

Joel and Michael attended a workshop on fundamental issues in the measurement of subjective well-being, co-hosted by the Wellbeing Research Centre (Oxford) and the Bennett Institute (Cambridge). You can watch all of the talks here, including Michael’s on his working paper on the comparability of happiness scales.

Michael critiques the much-tweeted paper, “Experienced well-being rises with income, even above $75,000 per year“.