Keys to a Happy Life Includes Personal Well Being

As reported previously, the small country of Bhutan instituted the concept of Gross National Happiness in 1972. Just as the Gross National Product is used to define success of a country and set policy, so does the GNH in Bhutan. The concept of Gross National Happiness is gaining grassroots traction throughout the world as the keys to a happy life. In the United States there are more than 350 communities who have developed ways of measuring personal well being as an indicator of community success. In addition to the US, communities in Brazil, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom are beginning to measure happiness.

One of the leaders of the happiness movement was Victoria, BC which developed ‘The Happiness Initiative.’ The concept has now been adapted and adopted in communities such as Seattle, WA and Portland, OR.

Based on domains similar to those in Bhutan, citizens within communities are asked to take a survey to measure happiness. Based on the responses, communities are creating policy to improve the overall personal well being of its citizenry. In Seattle, the city council will use the happiness survey to establish public policy.

Whether you live in a community that has a happiness survey, you can take it yourself and see how you compare to others. Take the Seattle Happiness Survey at

The survey measures nine domains that include:

Psychological Well-Being
Assesses the degree of satisfaction and optimism in individual life. The indicators analyze self-esteem, sense of competence, stress, spiritual activities and prevalence of positive and negative emotions.

Physical Health
Measures the effectiveness of health policies, with criteria such as self-rated health, disability, patterns of risk behavior, exercise, sleep, nutrition, etc.

Work/Time Balance
The use of time is one of the most significant factors in quality of life, especially time for recreation and socializing with family and friends. A balanced management of time is evaluated, including time spent in traffic jams, at work, in educational activities, etc.

Community Vitality/Social Connection
Focuses on relationships and interactions in communities. Examines the level of confidence, the sense of belonging, the vitality of affectionate relationships, safety at home and in the community, and the practice of giving and volunteering.

Education and Capacity Building
Takes into account several factors such as participation in formal and informal education, development of skills and capabilities, involvement in children’s education, values education, environmental education, etc.

Cultural Vitality and Access to Arts and Culture
Evaluates local traditions, festival, core values, participation in cultural events, opportunities to develop artistic skills and discrimination due to religion, race or gender.

Environmental Quality and Access to Nature
Measures the perception of citizens about the quality of their water, air, soil, forest cover, biodiversity, etc. The indicators include access to green areas, system of waste management, etc.

Democratic Governance
Assesses how the population views the government, the media, the judiciary, the electoral system, and the police, in terms of responsibility, honesty and transparency. It also measures involvement of citizens in community decisions and political processes.

Material Well-Being
Evaluates individual and family income, financial security, the level of debt, employment security, the quality of housing, etc.

The survey allows you to look at your own happiness, based on these measures. Depending on your results, you may want to make some changes to your lifestyle to improve your personal well being. The survey offers opportunities for further discussion. Do you think the survey provides the keys to a happy life? Should some domains be more important that others? Do you think it’s important for communities and governments to either measure happiness and use it to set policy?

About Cathy Severson

Cathy Severson helps baby boomers find more meaning and purpose in their lives and work. Get your copy of her complimentary e-book Guide to Retirement Activities a comprehensive look at work, volunteering and leisure based on an individuals’ personalities. Call for a complimentary 20-minute consultation to answer your most pressing concern. 928.775.4949 or email Cathy at

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