Economics is often called “the dismal science.” But as we’ve mentioned before (e.g. here), a handful of dismalscientists are taking a closer look not at what makes the economy hum, but at what puts smiles on our faces.

Research on moods and well-being has traditionally been in the domain of psychologists. But economists are increasingly drawn to these topics because, as this this Financial Times (UK) article details, traditional measures of economic output (including Gross Domestic Product) have become almost wholly decoupled from our sense of well-being. To wit:

Economic output as measured by GDP has risen steeply in recent decades in the developed economies but people have not been getting significantly happier…If the link between GDP and happiness no longer exists, one of the key objectives of government policy in keeping GDP on an upward trajectory is called into question.

And interest in the topic is spreading beyond academia. The Gallup Organization, one of North America’s top polling companies, is developing a phone survey to measure national well-being, based on the the work of happiness researchers. According to one of the economists working with Gallup, “If all goes well, we should be able to implement the method a year from now. I hope it could, years from now, become as important as GDP.”

Now that would be something to smile about.