The Question of Happiness

The New York Times reported this weekend that the city of Somerville, Massachusetts has starting asking a slightly unorthodox question on its citywide census. In addition to the usual questions about race, gender, and marital status Somerville has asked all of its residents to rate their happiness on a one to ten scale.

The results are still trickling in and, although there are several responses that show that all residents were not taking the question entirely seriously, this effort will offer interesting insight into the emotional wellbeing of a diverse city.

There has been some question of whether the city government has any place inquiring into its citizens’ contentment with life, arguing that emotions are a personal matter. At the same time, many people interviewed in the Times article point out the many things local government can do to improve its citizen’s happiness such as installing bicycle lanes on city streets and improving mass transit.

Who should be asking these questions on a larger scale? Perhaps it is our workplaces that should be taking a more analytical view of their employees’ wellbeing? The actions of employers certainly have a notable effect on the happiness of the people they employ so perhaps organizations should take a page from Somerville’s book and start asking these questions as well.

If you wanted to assess happiness, what would be your focus? That is, what is the essence of happiness that any good measure would have to assess?

Leave a Reply