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Measuring Well-being: Vermont Leads the Way

The use of population indicators is increasing across our society, but is hardly a new idea.  Utilization of population indicators has been with us here in the United States from early in our country’s history – since taking a census, or full count, of the population was enshrined in our Constitution (so maybe it is a “Revolutionary” idea, after all!). These days there are myriad population indicators actively and passively collected and distributed across all facets of our society.

The more “traditional” of these population indicators include data that capture poverty and

GNH Board Member Michael Moser works with the Vermont Data Center. In this post, he shares his perspective on how lowly bytes of data can help us transform our society.

unemployment rates, household income, and educational attainment, to name a few.  While these indicators provide users with excellent data to understand trends and make comparisons, they are not able to provide us with a more contextual, holistic picture of the people and communities they represent.

And this is where the ongoing efforts of Gross National Happiness USA come into play.  GNH USA, along with its sister organization The Happiness Alliance, is engaged in expanding access to, and utilization of, a more holistic population indicator for the times.  The Gross National Happiness Index provides communities around the world and in the U.S. with a new, data-based indicator for population well-being that moves beyond the indicators traditionally available.

The Gross National Happiness Index collects data using 47 questions comprising 10 life domains to measure respondent overall happiness and well-being.  The 10 domains include:

  • Psychological Well-being (Engagement, optimism, accomplishment)
  • Physical Health (Health, energy, mobility, exercise)
  • Time Balance (Time for enjoyment, rushed time)
  • Community Vitality (Trust, safety, volunteerism, belonging)
  • Social Connectedness (Support, caring, love, loneliness)
  • Education and Culture (Cultural opportunity and community culture)
  • Physical Environment (Environmental quality and opportunity)
  • Governance (Access, trust, confidence)
  • Material Wellbeing (Financial security)
  • Work Life (Satisfaction, interest, autonomy, pay)

The development of these domains and the questions that comprise them is an ongoing process that engages researchers and builds upon best practices from around the globe.  Variations of the tool have been implemented in Bhutan (the birthplace of Gross National Happiness), Canada, Brazil, and the United States.

In another step toward bringing this holistic indicator to mainstream use in the U.S., GNHUSA has collaborated with the Center for Rural Studies at the University of Vermont to conduct the first-ever statewide happiness and well-being studies utilizing social sciences methodological norms to ensure results are representative of Vermont’s population.

Conducted first in 2013 and repeated in 2017, researchers administered the Gross National Happiness Index to random samples of Vermont households, with results that are representative of the population as a whole. Vermonters are now able to review the population-level index score as well as the 10 life domains scores that comprise the index, and the scores for each of the 47 individual questions that comprise the domains.  In addition, with the completion of the 2017 data collection, Vermonters are able to track changes in happiness and well-being over time.

It is GHNUSA’s hope that with the availability of these unique data, researchers, policy-makers, and the population at large will begin to utilize this new set of population well-being indicators alongside typical indicators like poverty and educational attainment to gain a more complete understanding of community well-being.  To this end, GNHUSA and the Center for Rural Studies are working together to increase awareness and ensure the data are readily accessible to those with interest in using them.

Looking forward, GNHUSA is seeking to develop new partnerships across the U.S. with those interested in employing the Gross National Happiness Index to further understanding of their populations’ happiness and well-being. Interested in applying these metrics to your community? Contact us!

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