Could your country’s success soon be measured by Gross National Happiness? You can’t deny the emotion’s celebrity status, with reports like the Happy Planet Index and the World Happiness Report blazing headlines.
But, can we really pin down such an elusive, deeply personal experience?
Don’t worry, science has defined happiness for us.
The literature romantically describes it as your reported “life satisfaction in combination with the frequency of negative to positive affect experienced.” In other words, happiness is how fulfilled you feel with your life alongside how many good moods and emotions you have versus bad ones. So, the next time someone asks how you’re doing, just say:
“My positive affect is high and I feel satisfied within my life’s domains.”
And, that’s not all. Never one to follow the crowd, science has renamed the emotion subjective well-being (SWB). SWB considers people’s perceived quality of life, both emotionally and cognitively. Being subjective, this definition doesn’t account for more objective criteria, like health or living conditions.
So, how can you measure SWB?
SWB = A person’s life satisfaction + affect balance
Life satisfaction measurements usually involve self-reported questionnaires. The questions explore a person’s bigger picture, long term judgments of their fulfillment within certain areas of their life (for instance, career or family).
Affect balance looks at the ratio of perceived positive to negative moods and emotions a person experiences, usually in the short term. This can also be measured with self-reported questionnaires or with self-reported tests like the Positive Affect Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS). In PANAS, respondents rate how strongly they feel on each of 10 positive and 10 negative emotional states (ex. very slightly to extremely).
However, self reports face one major problem: People lie. Even when we mean well, human beings can’t even help it. People may feel inappropriate or embarrassed by their true responses, or want to please the researchers by giving them whatever they believe is a “good” answer. Even subconsciously, learned social pressures can make respondents select the answers they think are more desirable.
So, did the poets have it right -- is happiness really unmeasurable?
Science says “Well, not really.” There are several techniques that can be used alongside self reports to add validity to a person’s answers.
The self report questions themselves can offer traps for contradictory answers. Many offer up the same question multiple times, in different phrasings. For example, if a person says once that they “feel very outgoing in groups,” but later says “they feel very introverted around others,” their answer can be discredited.
Informant reporting has close friends/relations provide insights on a respondent’s lifestyle, mood, and emotions. That way, if both a subject and their sister say that they are irritable lately, it’s more likely that they are truly cranky.
Another method is called Experience Sampling, in which a beeper triggers subjects to report their mood and activities at specific times throughout the day. This on-the-spot tactic provides a more natural “in situ” method, removing some of the pressure on respondents to please researchers as well as their tendency to act differently in a controlled laboratory environment.
Your happiness has been validated.
Despite questionable pop culture headlines, happiness keeps getting more accurately defined in the scientific community. On the bright side, it’s only going to get more positive with the rise of big data and continually improving methods for validating reports.
So, can we harness happiness measures to drive positive change in the world? What do you think?
Activists tend to have a complicated relationship with money. Most of us likely grew up trying to avoid seeming ostentatious or materialistic. Perhaps you did your best to hide your privileges to seem more relatable, or you had mixed feelings towards those who flaunted their wealth. It seems to be a common philosophy for activists that money is responsible for more problems than solutions. After all, “money is the root of all evil”, right?
Following this logic, many may refute the claim that money can be a solution to the world’s problems. Firstly, we tend to believe that “throwing” money at a complex problem is a lazy strategy that is just too simple to be effective. We believe results come from sacrifice, and writing a check is hardly sacrificial to someone for whom money isn’t of great importance. Secondly, giving money often fails to yield tangible results. If I donate $50 to cancer research, chances are (unless the charity is unusually transparent) I’ll never know where that $50 went, or if it actually made a difference. By giving to charities, we must put our trust in those charities to use our money effectively. For many, this is a difficult pill to swallow (and a concern that we at Charity Science and other organisations like GiveWell work to address).
For this and other reasons, when most activists think about how they can make the biggest difference in the world, they think about what they can do, like volunteering at a soup kitchen, going to protests, or teaching disadvantaged youth. We do these things because the experience is visceral and real. It gives us perspective of lives less privileged than our own and it nourishes our empathy. The sacrifice we make by leaving our comfort zone makes us truly feel like we’ve given something back. And most importantly, action gives us tangible results. “I’ve built these walls and now someone will live within them.”
All of these are good, non-trivial reasons to take action, and these experiences likely expand our desire to want to change the world for the better. I would even make a strong argument for the educational benefits of action-based philanthropy.
Let us note, however, that the benefits of such charity are largely our own. For example, while computer programmer Jimmy may personally grow from the experience of building a home for a poor family, it is unlikely he will build that home as efficiently as experienced local workers within the community (funded perhaps by a charity through donations given by Jimmy and others). In other words, since Jimmy is not an expert in the field, he can probably do more good with the money he makes in an hour as a programmer than an hour volunteering as a home-builder. This may not always be the case, but it is more often than not, and we should think rationally about actions we take before taking them.
Further, we need to remember that money is a tool, nothing more. Money can be used for good or evil, but is neutral in its own right. And when used for good, money is the most versatile tool we have. By giving money, we can empower a person or team to more efficiently do what they’re good at. We can empower an organisation to help prevent one of the major causes of disease and death in developing countries. We can empower activists to combat animal suffering. We can even directly empower those less privileged than we are to make their own decisions. Most importantly, in all of these situations, a lack of money (not labor) is the most significant bottleneck preventing further intervention.
In conclusion, action is important, action is educational, and action is humbling, but in many cases, action is inefficient and serves us more than those we’re trying to help. Before deciding whether to spend our time or money to make a difference, we should consider the effects of each decision. More often than not, giving our money can do more good because as activists living in developed countries, having money is our privilege. It is our possession of wealth that puts us in a position to help others. Use that.
Charity Science is excited to announce that we’ve added peer to peer fundraiser pages for special events of any kind, in addition to our birthday and Christmas fundraisers. You can now run peer to peer fundraisers for any special event you’d like with unique pages for the US, UK, and Canada (anyone else can fundraise too you’ll just be using the currency of one of those countries and donors won’t get tax deductibility). Peer-to-peer fundraisers are one of the most effective ways to raise money and we’ve had great success with birthday and Christmas fundraisers. Most people who put in even 1-2 hours to these fundraisers raise $300 or more which is a terrific per hour return!
While you can use the general fundraiser pages for any type of event, here are some suggestions:
Once you’ve decided what you want to do, you can find instructions on how to create and promote your fundraiser here.
If you’re thinking of running a fundraiser, we strongly suggest you check out Peter Hurford’s guide to running a fundraiser as he ran a highly successful fundraiser and others have copied his method with great results.
Finally, you know your situation best but as a general rule we’ve found people are most generous during the holiday season. So if you want to raise the most money, I’d suggest donating your Christmas which we also have unique pages for in in the US, UK, and Canada. However, if you think there’s a good case that your upcoming event is better, or you’d rather get presents at Christmas, this is a great alternative which you can get started creating now in the US, UK, and Canada.
You also might be interested in our operations blog that details: our month to month organizational progress, the more technical ideas we have, and our board meeting minutes