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How to Measure Happiness?

how to measure happiness

How to Measure Happiness

The question of happiness and how to measure happiness is being asked more frequently these days. It is an essential topic in that the global pandemic poses great risks for happiness, which tends to have its supports for well-being, most especially health and income. It seems to make sense to know as a group are we less happy today and how do we measure it.

Perhaps the most recognized happiness measurement method is contained in the World Happiness Report. In 2011 the United National General assembly adopted a resolution to survey world happiness each year. The first World Happiness Report was then released in April 2012. The report outlined the state of world happiness along with the causes of happiness and misery. The rankings for each country’s happiness levels are graded on a 0 to 10 scale. The report is quite detailed in that it is organized by chapters with such issues as mental illness, benefits of happiness, the importance of ethics, policy implications, and the like.

This year the 2020 World Happiness Report ranks cities worldwide by their subjective well-being, examing how the social, urban, and natural environments combine to affect our happiness. Data was used from the Gallup World Poll to determine this. But the rankings are not from 2020 as samples for the years 2016-2018 were used.  The sample sizes were 1000 to 3000 per country. Even though the sample size may seem small, it is sufficient to confirm a 95% confidence level of accuracy.

The study relied on six factors to determine a country’s happiness levels. These include a country’s GDP levels, life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom, and corruption.

How to Measure Happiness - Test Taking
Happiness fluctuates, so testing reports the level of happiness only in that point in time.

Type of Happiness Measurements

There is disagreement among happiness researchers on the subject of how to measure happiness. They have attempted to measure happiness in several different ways.

Biological. Researchers have not had a great deal of success, finding biological markers for happiness. Depression and happiness markers are different. It is interesting to note that although low serotonin levels predict depression, high levels don’t predict happiness. It infers that depression and happiness are not opposite moods.  They are related, but at the same time, they are independent. There is no clear chemical indicator in the human body that can predict if the person is happy. So far, researchers who have worked in this area have had little success using biological markers.

Behavioral. Another approach is through the observation of a person’s behavior. Measuring the frequency of expressions such as laughing or grinning has been used to measure happiness with mixed results.

Indirect Measuring.  Candid measures are a method used in which people do not know they are is being tested. Unfortunately, these candid measures haven’t proved to be useful in assessing happiness.

Third-party Reporting. Using someone else to rate another’s happiness level has been effective in research. It is especially useful in rating children’s happiness by surveying the parents and teachers of a child.

Individual Self-Reports. Self-reporting is the most common way researchers measure happiness.  Such reports use either multiple choice or single yes/ no questions to determine a test-takers answer.  They are asked about their happiness level, and since people think about their happiness frequently, it seems that it is the most efficient way to determine it. Still, there are difficulties with this method as answers can be influenced by small outside forces. For example, researchers placed a small amount of change nearby for the test taker to find. But in finding the change, the test-takers answers were positively influenced. Therefore, the testing areas must be devoid of such stimuli to have the most unbiased results.

As a result of these various approaches, researchers find that determining happiness levels is most reliable using self-reporting. Happiness surveys such as the Revised Oxford Happiness Scale ask a comprehensive set of questions, while the Satisfaction with Life Scale poses only five. Generally, these polls ask people to rate their satisfaction with various aspects of their lives on a scale. The Oxford Happiness Test is a prime example.

How to measure happiness- Oxford home to the Oxford Happiness test
Oxford University, home to the Oxford Happiness test.

The Oxford Happiness Test

This self-reporting method of determining happiness levels has become a research standard. This Oxford University was developed by psychologists Michael Argyle and Peter Hills. Consisting of twenty-nine questions, it provides a comprehensive way to evaluate an individual’s happiness.  The six multiple choice answers offer:

1 = strongly disagree
2 = moderately disagree
3 = slightly disagree
4 = slightly agree
5 = moderately agree
6 = strongly agree

Most happiness surveys, such as the Oxford Happiness test, ask a large number of questions, while the World Happiness Report’s Satisfaction with Life Scale poses only five. Generally, these surveys request the test-takers rate their life satisfaction on various topics based on a scale.

Happiness is a fluctuating emotion. That means you can be happy one day while you can be less happy or even feeling sad the next day. Thus, such happiness test results only reflect happiness feeling the moment they are taken. If taken at a later time, the test results will show differently.

The Penn Happiness Survey

In 2005  Christopher Peterson, a psychologist, and professor at the University of Michigan developed a happiness survey. It is known as the Authentic Happiness Inventory, which can found at the University of Pennsylvania Authentic Happiness website. This survey looks at how positive emotions are experienced, how engaged you are in your day-to-day tasks, and how you feel towards your life’s meaning and purpose. The test consists of 24 questions using 5 multiple choice answers.

Happiness Quiz- How to Measure Happiness
The Happiness Quiz used to measure individual levels of happiness.

Designing the Happiness Quiz

As the author of the new book Happiness Power: How to Unleash Your Powers and Live a More Joyful Life, I thought it would be interesting to conduct a questionnaire shorter than the Oxford Happiness Test, which is used for more clinical studies. The pandemic and the election seem to have negatively affected my colleagues’ moods, and it was time to determine how much.

This short-form test consists of only six questions, known as the Happiness Quiz. Each question offers five multiple-choice answers: 1) Strongly agree, 2) Agree, 3) Somewhat Agree, 4) Disagree, and 5) Strongly Disagree. The questions are:

  • I tend to dwell on the past.
  • I find humor in things
  • I keep problems to my self
  • I really treasure my possessions
  • I feel lonely
  • I really enjoy my work
How to measure Happiness - Question 1-3
Happiness Quiz results of question 1-3
How to measure happiness- answers to questions 4-6
Happiness Quiz results of question 4-6

The Happiness Quiz Results

The answers were consolidated into three categories. The least happy was in the happiness amateur category, the ordinarily happy was categorized as happiness novice, and the extremely happy was categorized as happiness guru.

 1) Happiness Status: Happiness Amateur

You know the essentials! When it comes to happiness, you still have some ways to improve yours, but you have the basics down. It’s clear you know the core basics of making happiness work for you (kindness, giving, loving, and trust), but what do you know about the aspects of happiness that are often neglected? It’s these neglected facets that may be holding you back in your pursuit of a joyful life. To learn more about keeping happiness more consistent and alive in your life, click here!

2) Happiness Status: Happiness Novice

You’re on your way! It seems like you don’t have a good grasp on your happiness quite yet, but no worries! All of us start at different stages, but the end goal is the same ‒ to become the happiest we can be in our lives for ourselves and our partners. Happiness is fundamental for a healthy and long life. Keeping things bottled up inside isn’t healthy, nor does it promote happiness. To learn more about improving your happiness, click here!

3) Happiness Status: Happiness Guru

Congratulations! You’re able to engage yourself well in fulfilling happiness in your life. Many people struggle to achieve such happiness, so take pride in yourself.

However, have you considered that there are still areas of your happiness holding you back? You could be getting so much more joy out of life and not even know it. Click here to learn about improving your happiness and bring more joy to your life.

The results of this unscientific quiz indicated that of the 255 test-takers 72% were leaning toward unhappiness, while only 9% indicated that they were very happy. 18% indicated normal happiness. Admittedly the there was a bias in this quiz as one has to assume that those who were interested in determining their happiness using this brief quiz might not have been very happy, to begin with -perhaps that is what the outcome leans toward.

How to measure happiness - Test results.
Test results demonstrating an alternative way of measuring happiness.

However, it is interesting to see how the test-takers felt about each question and how their answers fall.


Measuring happiness is difficult at best since people’s level of happiness is constantly changing. Such tests only provide for results that instant. As researchers have shown tests can be biased even by placing coins nearby for test-takers to discover. Yet, there are many ways you can measure happiness. These tests provide an excellent beginning to measure the level of your own happiness and well-being.

Further Reading:

Type of Happiness in Psychology

Ways to Be Happier Working from Home

Take the Happiness Quiz

Robert Gill, Jr.

Robert Gill, Jr.

Robert Gill, Jr. is an author, publisher, entrepreneur, and businessperson. His most recent book, "90 Days to Your First Real Estate Investment Purchase," guides those with little money to invest in rental properties. His current book, "Happiness Power," describes the powers that happiness provides those that experience it. It will be released in January 2021. He has written non-fiction books and articles on subjects ranging from teaching, crafts, hobbies, and self-help and cooking to personal finance. He lives in Far Hills, New Jersey, with his wife and Lab, Ginger.

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