Introductory text

Chapter 1

Aims of this collection

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Chapter 2

Concept of happiness

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Chapter 3

Methods for measurement of happiness

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Chapter 4

Acceptable measures of happiness

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Chapter 5

Classification of  happiness measures

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Chapter 6

Conversion of measurement results

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Chapter 7

Uses of this collection

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1     AIMS
The aim of this collection is to gather all acceptable methods for measuring happiness. It is part of a wider collection of research findings on happiness that prepares for research synthesis.  Comparability requires that all the measures of happiness used fit the same definition of happiness.
This collection provides an overview of methods for measuring happiness and allows easy selection of measures that have been used in studies one wants to use for comparison. It is hence a helpful tool for designing new research and for interpreting research findings. This collection is also useful for method development.
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The word 'happiness' is used in various ways. In the widest sense it is an umbrella term for all that is good. In this meaning it is often used interchangeably with terms like 'wellbeing' or 'quality of life' and denotes both individual and social welfare. This use of words suggests that there is one ultimate good and disguises differences in interest between individuals and society.
Here the word happiness is used in the more limited sense of the subjective enjoyment of one’s own life as a whole. A formal definition of happiness is presented in section 2/1. Within this concept of overall happiness, two ‘components’ of happiness: hedonic level and contentment (section 2/2).
Next this concept of happiness is distinguished from related notions, first from other qualities of life (section2/3/.1) and then from other concepts of satisfaction (section 2/3).
Having established what is meant by ‘happiness we go on to note the variable aspects of this concept, that is, dimensions that are not included in the concept as such (section 2/4). The concept is restricted to present life (section 2/5). Finally section 2/6 summarizes the reasons to define happiness in this way.
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Since happiness is defined as something we have on mind, it can be measured using questioning.
The standard approach is to ask people directly how much they like the life they live. Questions of that kind are typically posed in the context of survey studies. Means and standard deviations observed in samples are generalized to a population.
Non-standard methods are: multiple questions, multi-moment assessment of mood, analysis of ego-documents and observations of cheerful appearance by external raters.
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All variants of happiness can be measured using questioning. Hedonic level can also be assessed by time-sampling of mood and by observations of non-verbal behavior.
Not all the measures used for the measurement of happiness are deemed acceptable. Many measures tap broader phenomena than defined here. Whether or not this is the case is assessed in a check for face validity, that is, close reading the text of questions or observation instructions to see what is actually assessed. About half of the measures claimed to assess happiness appear to tap something else. These measures are left out in this collection.
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Accepted measures are classified in two ways: first by the substantive meaning they tap and second by their methodological characteristics.
The categorization of meaning involves the kind of happiness the measure focuses on, for instance whether the focal point is on pleasant mood or on contentment. This is called the focus
Measures are also classified by the period considered. For example, whether a question on happiness pertains to the last few years or to the mood of the moment. This is referred to as the time frame.
The classification of methodic aspects starts with the technique by which happiness is assessed. Questioning is the most common method, but affect level can also be assessed by behavioral observation (cf. Section 3/2). Next to direct questioning, there are also indirect techniques, such as content analysis of diaries. These assessment methods are referred to as the mode.
All assessments of happiness are scored in a way that allows a ranking. Mostly this is done by using numerical scales, but scores are also recorded on verbally labeled scales or on graphic scales. So the next subject of classification is the rating-scale used. Both the scale-type and the scale-range are recorded.

Substantive Meaning


The kind of happiness addressed.


The period considered

Method of assessment


The technique by which happiness is assessed

Scale type

How the observation is scored

Scale range

Number of degrees of happiness distinguished



Variation in phrasing of otherwise equivalent item

Section 5/1 presents the rubrics used to determine the focus of happiness measures. This classification departs from the above distinction between overall happiness and its two 'components', that is, affect level and contentment. Not all the items fit this conceptual tri-partition; hence there is a fourth category for 'mixed' items. 
Section 5/2 presents the ordering of time-frames. A distinction is made between the period referred to in estimates of average happiness, and periods over which change in happiness is followed.
Section 5/3 presents the categorization of assessment modes. The major distinction made is between self-reports of happiness and estimates by others. As noted above, other ratings are only accepted for assessment of affect level.
Section 5/4 provides  an ordering of rating scales. Section 5/5 outlines how is dealt with similar questions that differ only in wording.
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The aim of this World Database of Happiness is to facilitate research synthesis. Yet differences in the measurement of happiness make the results often incomparable. Differences due to variation in rating scales can be overcome using conversion techniques. This chapter presents methods for conversion of results obtained on different primary scales to a common secondary scale, typically a numerical 0 to 10 scale.
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This collection provides an overview of the available methods for measuring happiness and allows easy selection of items that have been used in studies one wants to use for comparison. It is hence a helpful tool for designing new research and for interpreting research findings. This collection is also useful for method development.
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Texts by Ruut Veenhoven and Wim Kalmijn. Last update May 2015