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Moving Forward on the Happiness Initiative

The UN General Assembly says happiness is an important social index

Submitted by: Laura Musikanski

Posted: Aug 03, 2011 – 07:49 PM EST

Tags: happiness, community, community development, public policy, gdp, sustainability


By Laura Musikanski and John de Graaf

July 19th was a day for celebration at the offices of Sustainable Seattle, the first organization in the world to create regional indicators of well-being. No, the sun wasn’t shining; it’s Seattle, after all. But that day, the United Nations’ General Assembly adopted a resolution calling the pursuit of happiness “a fundamental human goal” and requesting member nations to “give more importance to happiness and well-being in determining how to achieve and measure social and economic development.” The resolution declared “GDP was not designed to and does not adequately reflect the happiness and well-being of people in a country.”

For Sustainable Seattle the declaration was an affirmation of its signature project, The Happiness Initiative. This idea was introduced on CSRwire last spring (see post here).

The Happiness Initiative team finds the project an exciting and effective way to assess community well-being, engage citizens and improve both personal happiness and public policy. It leads to the kinds of broad conversations and policy actions that are implied by the UN resolution. It starts with a survey anyone can take, based on nine “domains” of happiness identified by Bhutan.

The survey was completed by more than 7,200 people. People in every US state, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and some 500 people from outside the US took it. The first report on the data is scheduled to come out in two months. The results show particularly low scores in the domains of “time balance,” “community participation” and “environment.” The Happiness Initiative will combine results from the survey with a set of objective indicators to give a more balanced picture of well-being. 

Following the UN’s happiness resolution, the next day The Happiness Initiative took a big step forward. The Seattle City Council unanimously endorsed the survey, agreeing to consult the available happiness data at least once a year as council members pursue future policy options in a time of scarce resources. Support from the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods will be used to translate the survey into languages spoken by immigrants and refugees, conduct town meetings to analyze survey results and objective indicators, gather feedback from the community and undertake small “happiness projects” in five neighborhoods. They plan to issue a second report of recommended policy ideas to the city council.

The team is currently working with people from other towns and cities in Washington, Oregon, Wisconsin, Iowa and Vermont to begin initiatives in their areas. The survey has been improved and shortened to help communities engage more people.

This project allows anyone to participate and become active in the search for new measures of well-being recommended by the United Nations.

Take the survey and conduct a happiness initiative in your community. Check out for more information and email us at

About Laura Musikanski

Laura Musikanski, JD, MBA, is the Executive Director of Sustainable Seattle. She is a lawyer and an MBA with a certificate in environmental management and policy from the University of Washington.  

About John de Graaf

John de Graaf is a documentary filmmaker and the Executive Director of Take Back Your Time. He is the author of the forthcoming book, What’s the Economy for, Anyway? Why it’s Time to Stop Chasing Growth and Start Pursuing Happiness and co-author of Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic. His most recent film is “What’s the economy for, Anyway?” He teaches occasionally at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA and lives in Seattle.

Readers: Have you taken the happiness survey? Check it out, then tell us what you think about it on Talkback!

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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