One of our greatest disappointments in developing the Cascadia Scorecard was our inability to include a measurement of northwesterners’ own sense of satisfaction with their lives and communities. The cost of gathering such data, and the technical challenges of reliable measurement, proved prohibitive. Someday!

But in recent years, academic research on happiness has exploded, bringing the day closer when it’ll be possible to track Cascadia’s happiness quotient. The implications of doing so would be profound, even revolutionary, according to a group of leading researchers who spoke recently at a Brookings Institution panel in Washington, DC. (Short summary here; full proceedings and papers available here.)

In essence, they argue, as a society, we’ve been scratching in the wrong place. We’ve been trying to maximize GNP instead of gross national happiness.

A few highlights, to entice you into reading further:

Americans’ inflation-adjusted income is three times that of their grandparents, yet Americans are no more satisfied with their lives now. In fact, young people suffer more stress and depression.

  • Researchers have now calculated how many extra (or fewer) dollars of income would be required to balance out the happiness effect of such life circumstances as being married, having good (or poor) health, living with aircraft noise, worrying about crime, and fretting about inflation.

    Raising cigarette taxes, paradoxically, makes smokers happier. (!)

    Becoming unemployment has a near-permanent impact on happiness; people may get a different job, but they don’t tend to recover their prior level of happiness. It leaves a scar of unhappiness.

    Researchers have quantified the happiness impacts of a range of activities people engage in: among Texas women, for example, commuting to work is the worst. Having sex is the best. The former boosts GDP; the latter does not.