There are many ways to improve people's lives. If we want to find the best ways, we need to be able to measure and compare the impact of these different approaches. Of fundamental importance is the choice of metric: what can we measure that reflects the values that we, as individuals and societies, care about?
A common approach is to measure the impacts on people’s health or wealth and use these as proxies for life improvement. However, health and wealth aren't the only things that matter. At HLI, we believe that they are valuable to the extent that they increase well-being. Although closely linked, it is people’s well-being, and not their health and wealth, which is intrinsically valuable.
We think the best available approach is to use subjective well-being (SWB): individuals' own reports of their happiness and life satisfaction. Social scientists - mostly economists and psychologists - have been collecting data on subjective well-being for the last few decades. The field has recently grown dramatically, with 175,000 books or articles published within the previous decade.
Subjective well-being data is a powerful tool to incorporate into our assessments of how to help others. We aim to conduct research that looks into this in greater depth: building on the theoretical foundations of the SWB literature and applying this to the question of how resources can most effectively be used to improve worldwide well-being.
In the talk below, HLI’s Founder and Director, Michael Plant, sets out some of his current thoughts on how best to increase global happiness.