Putting a value on happiness

A pair of articles highlighting polls about the happiest places in the world showed up in the news today.

Vanuatu chosen by Lonely Planet as world's happiest placeFirst, the Huffington Post posted a (completely unscientific, totally subjective) poll published last May by Lonely Planet listing its version of the World’s 10 happiest places. Much to the excitement of the locals, Montreal placed second, just behind Vanuatu.

Then, Israel Insider highlighted a (slightly more scientific, but still totally subjective) Gallup Poll published by Forbes on the World’s Happiest Countries. The top spots on the list were dominated by Scandinavia. But the news was that Israel was tied with Canada and Australia in eighth spot, making Israelis the happiest people on the Asian continent.

Really, now?

Well, not really. Despite what economists will tell you, there really is no practical way to put a numerical measurement on something as subjective as happiness. It’s not a tangible measurement. There’s no way to put it in a jar and count it.

So what, then, is the value in such polls? Why, branding, of course.

After all, what city, region or country wouldn’t love to be able to claim to be one of the “world’s happiest places” in its tourism ads?

People put value in these subjective rankings. Whether choosing a vacation destination, a university, or a new consumer electronic, the branding value of testimonials is solidly established. And what, after all, are so-called “happiness” polls if not larger-scale testimonials?

In fact, I’d wager that tourism boards already have models to calculate the financial impact of moving up or down a spot in annual published rankings in these polls. A gain in X percent reported happiness translates into Y tourist dollars. Now why didn’t the economists just state it that way in the first place?

Now to book that ticket to Vanuatu…