Measuring happiness is at least as difficult as catching rare and elusive butterflies. What kind of net should we use? At the Pursuit of Happiness project, we try to collect and analyze the most scientific studies on happiness and subjective well-being (SWB). The question is, how does one evaluate what the most “scientific” studies are? Naturally, randomized and controlled studies are more reliable. These kinds of studies often require an enormous amount of effort and funding, and many studies that claim to do this are flawed in various ways.
One more major challenge to reliability is how these studies measure the happiness or SWB of their subjects. The following is a list of the most widely used and respected questionnaires. As you can see, we can discover some major differences in how they approach the issue, which reflect different definitions and perceptions of happiness.
Oxford Happiness Inventory (Argyle and Hill)
Subjective Happiness Scale (Lyubomirsky & Lepper)
Satisfaction with Life Scale (Deiner, Emmons, Larsen and Griffin)
Panas Scale (Watson, Clark, Tellegen)
And this is Todd Kashdan’s thoughtful critique of the above scales:
We should mention a recent measurement of Subjective Well Being created by the OECD, as part of their very sophisticated and broad ranging survey, the Better Life Initiative. This initiative is fascinating and includes some eye-popping graphics. To see their detailed report on SWB and the questions they used to measure it, please refer to the end note.
The strong point of both the Panas Scale and the OECD Subjective Well Being scale is that they measure both positive and negative affect, which, as one might expect, have a clear inverse correlation.