Filed Under:

How Happy Is America?

Play associated audio

In recent years, Canada, France and Britain have added measures of citizen happiness to their official national statistics. The U.S. government is now considering adopting a happiness index as well.

This makes a certain amount of sense. Everything a government does — hiring soldiers, building bridges, providing pensions — is supposed to make citizens happy.

Economists and psychologists have been collecting happiness data for decades. They can quantify how unhappy noise pollution makes people who live near an airport. They know that people hate commuting and that we get less anxious as we get older.

But once you get into the details, there's a lot of debate over the happiness data. One big divide: Should you ask people how they're feeling right now, or how they feel about their life in general?

You get different answers depending on what you ask. Which one is more important is a squishy, philosophical question.

It turns out, though, that lots of economic data get squishy when you take a close look.

In the U.S, in order to be counted as unemployed, you have to be out of a job and looking for work. But what counts as looking for work? Checking Craigslist? Sending out three resumes a week? Five?

"It's actually kind of a hard question," says Justin Wolfers, an economist at the University of Michigan. "It's very subjective."

Yet every month, a single unemployment number is released. Unemployment is now 7.9 percent. And, right now, a panel is looking to come up with a similar number for happiness. Someday soon, we may start hearing news reports about how U.S. happiness is rising. Or falling.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit


From Trembling Teacher To Seasoned Mentor: How Tim Gunn Made It Work

Gunn, the mentor to young designers on Project Runway, has been a teacher and educator for decades. But he spent his childhood "absolutely hating, hating, hating, hating school," he says.

How Do We Get To Love At 'First Bite'?

It's the season of food, and British food writer Bee Wilson has a book on how our food tastes are formed. NPR's Scott Simon speaks with her about her new book, "First Bite: How We Learn to Eat."

Osceola At The 50-Yard Line

The Seminole Tribe of Florida works with Florida State University to ensure it that its football team accurately presents Seminole traditions and imagery.

Reviving Payoff For Prediction – Of Terrorism Risk

Could an electronic market where people bet on the likelihood of attacks deter terrorism? NPR's Scott Simon speaks with Stephen Carter about the potential for a terror prediction market.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.