How are you, really?

OECD Observer

The shortfalls of GDP that were already apparent before the crisis but made starker during it have led to a panoply of new initiatives to find metrics that can measure wellbeing rather than just economic growth. But while GDP has stood accused of overlooking the environment and human well-being, it has one advantage which policymakers and analysts appreciate: the methods are objective and clear. Whether measuring output or expenditure in an economy, GDP produces a single number that is easy to adjust and compare.

Finding a similarly effective metric for well-being is not easy, particularly as wellbeing is, by definition, subjective. Yet, there is now a widespread acknowledgement that measuring subjective well-being is an essential part of monitoring progress and the quality of life.

As a first step to filling this gap, the OECD has issued new guidelines on collecting, publishing, and analysing subjective well-being data. The OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being are part of the OECD Better Life Initiative, a pioneering project launched in 2011 to gauge progress across several factors, including health, civic engagement, the environment and governance.

Subjective well-being is often assumed to be restricted to measuring “happiness”, but in fact covers a wider range of concepts. For the new guidelines, a definition of subjective well-being is offered: “Good mental states, including all of the various evaluations, positive and negative, that people make of their lives and the affective reactions of people to their experiences.”

In other words, the guidelines shed light on how to collect information on people’s assessments and experiences of their own lives, as well as on evaluating people’s sense of purpose and psychological, ethical, states–what ancient Greek philosophers referred to as eudaimonia. In this way, the guidelines identify the best approaches for measuring the various dimensions of subjective well-being in a reliable and consistent way, while providing guidance on reporting. The guidelines also include a number of prototype survey modules that national and international agencies can adopt in their surveys.

Read the OECD Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being here

ISBN 978-92-64-19164-8

©OECD Observer 294, Q1 2013

Economic data


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • How do the largest community of British expats living in Spain feel about Brexit? Britons living in Orihuela Costa, Alicante give their views.
  • Brexit is taking up Europe's energy and focus, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. Watch video.
  • OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King discuss the economic merits of a US border adjustment tax and the outlook for US economic growth.
  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2017