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CIFAR Researchers help put world happiness on the agenda of the United Nations

by CIFAR Mar 30 / 12

The World Happiness Report, commissioned for the United Nations Conference on Happiness on April 2, 2012, provides the world’s first, comprehensive review of the growing body of research that uses subjective wellbeing as a measurement for the quality of life. The report can be viewed here.

Measures of subjective wellbeing, or happiness, are gaining increasing attention with policy makers and analysts who believe that traditional economic and social measures are no longer adequate given the apparent limits to material wealth as a primary driver for wellbeing. The UN conference is an outcome of resolutions passed by the United Nations General Assembly which calls on members to share new thinking on indicators as it prepares to draft its Sustainable Development Goals for 2015-2030.

The World Happiness Report – edited by John F. Helliwell, the Arthur J.E. Child Foundation Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) and Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of British Columbia; Richard Layard, former CIFAR advisor and Director of the Well-being Program, Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics; and Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute, Columbia University – shows that wealth alone does not make people happy. Political freedom, strong social networks and an absence of corruption and other factors, are together more important than income in explaining well-being differences between countries at the top and bottom of comparative rankings. The report’s findings suggest that the relative importance of various policy goals may need to be reconsidered if happiness is to become a major goal for humanity.

The editors hope that the conference will lead to a more coordinated, world effort to collect high quality, empirical data on happiness. “We hope this conference will also give new impetus for making happiness an underlying principle in the pillars shaping the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals,” says John Helliwell, report editor and co-director of CIFAR’s program Social Interactions, Identity and Wellbeing. Five past and current CIFAR program members and advisors will be taking part in the UN meeting on April 2nd.

Members of this CIFAR program have contributed significantly to the research documented in the report. “Much of the research basis of the report was produced by our program members, advisors and post-docs, and by guests who have presented at various CIFAR meetings,” adds John Helliwell. “CIFAR has helped greatly to create the research, to assemble a critical mass, and to communicate the results in the academic and policy communities and to the broader public.”

Since 2005, the CIFAR program has brought together economists, psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists to carve out a new interdisciplinary approach for understanding human behaviour and especially its social context They are developing theory and evidence on social identities, social interactions and subjective wellbeing to help improve understanding and policy design in many fields ranging from economic and social policies, education, gender and family issues to health, urban design, sustainable development and crime.