What we’ve been reading (2022)

31 December 2022

Academic papers

Human wellbeing and machine learning

Standard regression models explain surprisingly little of the variation in wellbeing, limiting our ability to predict it. In response, Oparina et. al assess the potential of machine learning to help us better understand wellbeing by analysing wellbeing data on over a million respondents from Germany, the UK, and the United States. 

Mobile phone-based interventions for mental health

Goldberg et al. synthesize results from 14 meta-analyses representing 145 randomized controlled trials and 47,940 participants. Taken together, the results support the potential of mobile phone-based interventions and highlight key directions to guide providers, policymakers, clinical trialists, and meta-analysts working in this area.

Social media and mental health

By using the gradual expansion of Facebook across US colleges as a natural experiment, the authors find that students were more likely to report that mental health issues negatively affected their academic performance after Facebook was introduced at their college.

The scientific value of numerical measures of human feelings

A new paper from Kaiser and Oswald sparked a Twitter storm by reporting that a ‘feelings integer’ (e.g. ‘my happiness is x out of 10’) has more predictive power than a collection of socioeconomic influences. 

The serotonin theory of depression: a systematic umbrella review of the evidence

A new meta-analysis finds no clear evidence that serotonin levels or serotonin activity are responsible for depression. This Twitter thread explains the implications and notes that “ just because we don’t know exactly how a drug works, doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. For some people, SSRIs alleviate depression. For some people they are life-saving.

Weighing the costs and benefits of public policy: on the dangers of single metric accounting

LSE philosopher, Johanna Thoma, presents two challenges to the idea that all costs and benefits should be aggregated into a single, equity-weighted wellbeing metric. The first relates to distributional concerns. The second notes that aggregating diverse effects into a single metric requires taking a position on many moral questions that reasonable people disagree about.


Britain must take this chance to make wellbeing a priority again

Writing in the Financial Times, Aveek Bhattacharya argues that a window of opportunity has emerged for the UK government to put wellbeing at the heart of policymaking.

Does philanthropy have a mental health problem?

Government funding for mental health services is still inadequate both within countries and in terms of development assistance, despite efforts to change this. The available data shows that philanthropic funding is, frankly, woeful – with mental health receiving just 0.5 per cent of all philanthropic health spending despite the fact that mental illness accounts for 4.9 per cent of the global burden of disease.

Economists must get more in touch with our feelings

Writing in the Financial Times, the economist Tim Harford notes there is a gap between people’s objective circumstances and how they feel about those circumstances. He argues that we can make better, more responsive policies by studying that gap. 

Unhappiness is soaring around the world

Wellbeing inequality is as serious as income inequality”, says Gallup CEO, John Clifton, writing in The Economist. Life could hardly be better for one fifth of the world, he notes, but for another fifth it could hardly be worse. “It may be that the people at the top appreciate what they have more than ever before. For the most unhappy, they are more aware of what they lack than ever before.

Wellbeing scientists named among Nobel-class researchers

Prof Lord Richard Layard (LSE), Prof Andrew Oswald (Warwick), and Prof Richard Easterlin (USC) have been named Clarivate Citation Laureates “for pioneering contributions to the economics of happiness and subjective wellbeing”.

What predicts fear of happiness?

Fear of happiness is a reluctance to experience and express happy feelings. Such an aversion means a person actively avoids happy situations, suppresses happy feelings, or feels guilty or anxious about being happy. The study found that these beliefs are more prevalent in some Islamic and East Asian countries than in Western countries.

Why we should invest in mental health in Africa

Writing for the World Economic Forum, Sean Mayberry (StrongMinds CEO) laments that Africa has the lowest mental health expenditure globally and up to 85% of individuals have no access to effective treatment.


Blind Spot: The Global Rise of Unhappiness and How Leaders Missed It

Unhappiness has been increasing globally for a decade. Anger, stress, worry and sadness reached record highs in 2021. Jon Clifton (Gallup CEO) argues that leaders missed the citizen unhappiness that triggered events ranging from the Arab uprisings, to Brexit, to the election of Donald Trump.

How to Launch a High-Impact Nonprofit

The team at Charity Entrepreneurship have distilled all their experience, advice, and expertise into this full-length guide on how to start your own organization from scratch.


Breakthrough to policy use: Reinvigorating impact evaluation for global development

The report urges governments and development partners to do more to integrate evidence and learning into routine operations and programming, while also emphasizing how researchers can elevate implementation, delivery, and cost analyses alongside impact evaluations for greater policy relevance. 

Global Happiness and Well-being Policy Report 2022

What does the latest evidence say about the best policy interventions to increase wellbeing? Each year, the Global Happiness Council identifies best practices at the national and local levels to advance the causes of happiness and wellbeing. The report includes chapters on education, workplace, health, vulnerable populations, digital wellbeing, and measurement.

Oral healthcare in LMICs is a promising new cause area

Rosie Bettle, a researcher at Founders Pledge, finds that oral diseases affect around 45% of the world’s population but the pain and suffering experienced by people with poor access to dental healthcare is hugely neglected. Rosie suggests fluoridation as a cost-effective way to reduce the problem.   

The Lancet Commission on ending stigma and discrimination in mental health

A collaboration of more than 50 global experts, this report brings together evidence and experience on the impact of stigma and discrimination and successful interventions for stigma reduction. 

The MYRIAD project: mindfulness in schools

The MYRIAD project tested the effects of a brief mindfulness intervention for early teens and found it to have no impact on preventing mental health problems or promoting wellbeing. In order to improve wellbeing for young people, they call for broader systemic changes in schools that teach coping skills and create environments where young people feel valued and respected.

Wellbeing in education in childhood & adolescence

Wellbeing is declining for young people across the world. 10-20% of children and adolescents experience clinical-level mental health difficulties, such as depression and anxiety. What can schools do about this? This report provides an excellent overview of the challenges of defining, measuring, and enhancing student wellbeing in education.

Wellcome Global Monitor 2020: Mental Health

A global survey of 119,000 people across 113 countries finds that 58% of people in low-income countries think that mental health is more important than physical health, compared to only 28% in high-income countries.

What role does subjective wellbeing play in ‘levelling up’?

Aveek Bhattacharya, Chief Economist at the Social Market Foundation, highlights the tension between promoting prosperity and supporting mental wellbeing in the UK. On average, places that are richer tend to have lower subjective wellbeing: large parts of Northern Ireland, Wales, and the South West are relatively content, whereas many London Boroughs are among the least happy places in the UK.

World Happiness Report 2022

2022 marks the tenth anniversary of the World Happiness Report. From its first year, the report has had a large and growing readership — reaching over 9 million in 2021. It has been widely cited. But more important has been the message the report has carried. The true measure of progress is the happiness of the people, that happiness can be measured, and that we know a lot about what causes it.

World Mental Health Report: Transforming Mental Health for All

Richard Horton (Editor-in-Chief at The Lancet) said,  “There are few truly watershed moments in medicine and global health. But the publication this month of WHO’s World Mental Health Report is one such milestone. It is the agency’s first major global foray into mental health for over two decades.” For a quick overview, take a look at this briefing for philanthropic funders from Prospira Global.