By Jon Clifton, Managing Director, Gallup World Poll
Well-meaning economists and political scientists use indicators such as GDP, household income, and unemployment data to make all kinds of predictions about countries. They apply classical, rational economics. But in doing so, they miss the most important dimension: how people are feeling. Not just how they’re feeling about their lives, but also whether they feel safe, can afford the food their families need, and even whether they plan to move away from their communities.
Over nearly 10 years, Gallup has built a database on how people’s lives are going by engaging the best experts in the world on that missing dimension.
Our process for quantifying what people are feeling is similar to labor force surveys that report unemployment. But instead of asking people, “Do you have a job?”, we ask them to rate their lives on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being the worst possible life and 10 being the best possible life. We then roll up the results and give each country an overall score.
You’ve undoubtedly heard many of these results: Denmark typically has the highest life evaluations in the world, for example; Syria has among the worst. But there are others that you might not have heard about. One of the richest countries in the world also has reported some of the lowest positive emotions on Earth. That country? Singapore.
Over the past decade, attitudes toward this type of research have admittedly been mixed. Some international organizations, such as the OECD, UNDP, and the World Bank, have incorporated well-being data into their research, while others see it as soft “happiness” surveys that shouldn’t be used for policy. But one graph, which plots GDP per capita and life evaluations in Egypt before the Arab Spring, has become a leading example of why leaders should take this information -- how people are feeling -- more seriously.
No economic models, nor think tanks, nor billions of dollars in U.S. intelligence successfully predicted the world-changing Arab Spring. While those well-intended models knew exactly what the people were spending and transacting, they didn’t know what they were thinking or feeling.
In 2005, Gallup set out to systematically track how people were feeling in every country in the world.
On Friday, Gallup and the Meridian International Center launched the Global States of Mind 2014 report, which provides a high-level overview of the countries that scored the best and the worst for life evaluations, safety, food access, institutions, jobs, and whether residents are planning to leave their communities. It’s our attempt to fill in the gap on how people all over the world are feeling. Labels: Gallup World Poll