What is the Happiness Index? Unpacking History, Importance, & Measurement

What is the Happiness Index? Unpacking History, Importance, & Measurement

The Happiness Index, also known as the World Happiness Report, is an annual publication released by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. It ranks countries based on their happiness levels and examines the factors contributing to the well-being of their citizens. Here's an overview of the Happiness Index, including its history, importance, and measurement:

A Brief History

The idea of measuring happiness on a national scale isn't entirely new. In 1972, the King of Bhutan introduced the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH), emphasizing that economic progress alone couldn't guarantee a content population. The GNH prioritizes values like cultural preservation, ecological sustainability, and good governance.

The modern happiness index, as we know it, gained prominence with the release of the World Happiness Report in 2012. This annual report published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations ranks countries based on their levels of subjective well-being.

Why does the happiness index matter?

  • Policy Guidance: The Happiness Index provides governments with valuable insights into what truly matters to their citizens. It encourages policymaking focused on increasing well-being rather than purely economic growth.
  • Benchmark for Progress: Comparing happiness scores over time and across nations serves as a benchmark. It shows areas where a country is thriving or needs improvement, promoting targeted action.
  • Reframing Success: The Happiness Index challenges the traditional notion of success solely tied to GDP (gross domestic product). It highlights that a truly prosperous society prioritizes its people's well-being.

How is happiness measured?

The World Happiness Report primarily uses data from the Gallup World Poll. This poll asks citizens across the globe to rate their life satisfaction on a scale of 0 to 10. Additionally, the index considers six key factors that contribute to happiness:

  1. GDP per capita: a measure of economic well-being.
  2. Social support: the presence of strong relationships in times of need.
  3. Healthy life expectancy: an indicator of access to quality healthcare.
  4. Freedom to make life choices: The extent of personal autonomy.
  5. Generosity: prevalence of charitable donations and helping others.
  6. Perceptions of corruption: the degree of trust in institutions and businesses.

The Happiness Index: Limitations and Considerations

  • Subjectivity: Happiness is a personal experience, and survey responses can be influenced by various factors.
  • Cultural Differences: How different cultures define and express happiness can vary.
  • Data Doesn't Tell the Whole Story: The Index is a valuable tool, but it should not be the sole determinant of a country's success.


The Happiness Index provides a fascinating, although imperfect, lens through which to view global well-being. While its focus is on subjective happiness, it encourages nations to focus on factors proven to boost quality of life. It's a reminder that progress isn't just about economic might but ensuring a fulfilling existence for all citizens.


Thank You