OECD Observer
How are you, really?

The shortfalls of GDP that were already apparent before the crisis but made starker during it have led to a panoply of new initiatives to find metrics that can measure wellbeing rather than just economic growth. But while GDP has stood accused of overlooking the environment and human well-being, it has one advantage which policymakers and analysts appreciate: the methods are objective and clear. Whether measuring output or expenditure in an economy, GDP produces a single number that is easy to adjust and compare.

Finding a similarly effective metric for well-being is not easy, particularly as wellbeing is, by definition, subjective. Yet, there is now a widespread acknowledgement that measuring subjective well-being is an essential part of monitoring progress and the quality of life.

As a first step to filling this gap, the OECD has issued new guidelines on collecting, publishing, and analysing subjective well-being data. The OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being are part of the OECD Better Life Initiative, a pioneering project launched in 2011 to gauge progress across several factors, including health, civic engagement, the environment and governance.

Subjective well-being is often assumed to be restricted to measuring “happiness”, but in fact covers a wider range of concepts. For the new guidelines, a definition of subjective well-being is offered: “Good mental states, including all of the various evaluations, positive and negative, that people make of their lives and the affective reactions of people to their experiences.”

In other words, the guidelines shed light on how to collect information on people’s assessments and experiences of their own lives, as well as on evaluating people’s sense of purpose and psychological, ethical, states–what ancient Greek philosophers referred to as eudaimonia. In this way, the guidelines identify the best approaches for measuring the various dimensions of subjective well-being in a reliable and consistent way, while providing guidance on reporting. The guidelines also include a number of prototype survey modules that national and international agencies can adopt in their surveys.

Read the OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being here

ISBN 978-92-64-19164-8

©OECD Observer 294, Q1 2013