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Latest news and research

Site visit to StongMinds: Kampala, Uganda

Dr Michael Plant conducted an in-person site visit to better understand the StrongMinds programme and the people in it. We don’t expect site visits can, or should, be decisive for evaluation purposes (they are ‘anecdata’), but they can nevertheless be informative. Visitor: Dr Michael Plant, Founder & Research Director at the Happier Lives Institute Date of visit: 11 April 2024 Document written: 19 April 2024

Site visit to Friendship Bench: Harare, Zimbabwe

Dr Michael Plant conducted an in-person site visit to better understand the Friendship Bench programme and the people in it. We don’t expect site visits can, or should, be decisive for evaluation purposes (they are ‘anecdata’), but they can nevertheless be informative. Visitor: Dr Michael Plant, Founder & Research Director at the Happier Lives Institute Date of visit: 04 April 2024 Document written: 10 April 2024

Policies for wellbeing: A brief scoping review

In this report, summer research fellow Thomas Beuchot briefly scoped out the public policies that promise to be most effective at increasing wellbeing. The policies found as the most promising according to the grading criteria are mostly policies that are also widely valued and pursued outside of a wellbeing lens: unemployment, strong relationships, increased access to nature, and opportunities to volunteer.

Talking through depression: The cost-effectiveness of psychotherapy in LMICs, revised and expanded

In this substantial update to our work on psychotherapy we conduct a systematic review, a meta-analysis, and cost-effectiveness analyses of two charities who deliver psychotherapy (StrongMinds and Friendship Bench). This is a working report that will be updated over time, results may change.

Lead Exposure: a shallow cause exploration

In this shallow cause exploration, we explore the impact of lead exposure on subjective wellbeing. We review the literature, model the impact of lead exposure on wellbeing, and conduct some back-of-the-envelope calculations of the cost-effectiveness of various interventions to decrease lead exposure.

Immigration reform: a shallow cause exploration

In this shallow cause exploration, we explore the impact of immigration on subjective wellbeing. We review the literature, model the impact of immigration on wellbeing, and conduct some back-of-the-envelope calculations of the cost-effectiveness of various interventions to increase immigration.

Pain relief: a shallow cause exploration

In this shallow cause exploration, we explore the relationship between pain and subjective wellbeing; assess the severity and scale of chronic pain in terms of life satisfaction; and offer some novel back-of-the-envelope calculations for the cost-effectiveness of several interventions to treat pain.

A can of worms: the non-significant effect of deworming on happiness

In this report, we summarise the debate about the efficacy of deworming, present the first analysis of deworming in terms of subjective wellbeing, and compare the cost-effectiveness of deworming to StrongMinds (our current top recommended charity).

The elephant in the bednet: the importance of philosophy when choosing between extending and improving lives

How should we compare the value of extending lives to improving lives? Doing so requires us to make various philosophical assumptions, either implicitly or explicitly. But these choices are rarely acknowledged or discussed by decision-makers, all of them are controversial, and they have significant implications for how resources should be distributed.

The property rights approach to moral uncertainty

Given the current state of our moral knowledge, it is entirely reasonable to be uncertain about a wide range of moral issues. This paper considers the suggestion that appropriateness under moral uncertainty is a matter of dividing one’s resources between the moral theories in which one has credence, allowing each theory to use its resources as it sees fit.

Deworming and decay: replicating GiveWell’s cost-effectiveness analysis

We make four recommendations to improve GiveWell’s cost-effectiveness analyses: (1) publicly explain and defend their assumptions about the effect of deworming over time; (2) explain their cost-effectiveness analyses in writing; (3) illustrate the sensitivity of their results to key parameters; (4) make it clear when an estimate is subjective or evidence-based.

A philosophical review of Open Philanthropy’s Cause Prioritisation Framework

This post is a philosophical review of Open Philanthropy’s Global Health and Wellbeing Cause Prioritisation Framework, the method they use to compare the value of different outcomes. In practice, the framework focuses on the relative value of just two outcomes, increasing income and adding years of life.

Wheeling and dealing: An internal bargaining approach to moral uncertainty

This post explores and evaluates an internal bargaining approach to moral uncertainty. On this account, the appropriate decision under moral uncertainty is the one that would be reached as the result of negotiations between agents representing the interests of each moral theory, who are awarded resources in proportion to your credence in that theory.

Meet our 2022 Summer Research Fellows

We’re excited to introduce you to our 2022 cohort of summer research fellows who will be joining us in July and August for a seven-week paid internship. Their projects will help to deepen our understanding of the nature and measurement of wellbeing and identify cost-effective ways for individuals and governments to increase it.

Will faster economic growth make us happier? The relevance of the Easterlin Paradox to Progress Studies

Progress Studies has been popularised by academics such as Tyler Cowen and Steven Pinker. However, the Easterlin Paradox presents a real challenge to the claim that if we want more progress, we just need to improve the long-run growth rate - a view that Cowen argues for in his book Stubborn Attachments.

Happiness for the whole family

We update our previous analysis to incorporate the household spillover effects for cash transfers and psychotherapy. We estimate that psychotherapy is 9 times (95% CI: 2, 100) more cost-effective than cash transfers. The charity StrongMinds is estimated to be 9 times (95% CI: 1, 90) more cost-effective than the charity GiveDirectly.

Global priority: mental health

This report investigates the global burden of mental illness. It sets out how big the problem is, how much spending it receives, and how those resources are allocated. It then focuses specifically on what can be done to reduce anxiety and depression in low-income countries.

Cash transfers: systematic review and meta-analysis

We know that cash transfers reduce poverty, improve health and enhance education but what impact do they have on how people feel and think about their lives? We find that cash transfers have a small, positive effect on subjective wellbeing, one that lasts for several years.

A Happy Possibility About Happiness (And Other) Scales

There are long-standing doubts about whether data from subjective scales are cardinally comparable—should we, for instance, believe that if two people self-report their happiness as '7/10' then they are as happy as each other? It is unclear how to assess whether these doubts are justified without first addressing two unresolved theoretical questions: how do people interpret subjective scales, and which assumptions are required for cardinal comparability? This working paper offers answers to both.

Update on our plans

Our strategy has developed significantly since we launched 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.

HLI has hatched: strategy update

The Happier Lives Institute was formed in late 2018 by a group of committed individuals interested in the subjects of happiness, mental health and effective altruism. Our broad aim was to find the best ways to improve global happiness.

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