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Research Programmes | Wellbeing:

Wellbeing Policy


One of the central aims of the programme is that government policy should increasingly focus on wellbeing. The debate over whether or not happiness is a proper objective for society is a basic philosophical issue. In the second edition of Happiness, published in 2011, Richard Layard devotes a new Part 3 to this issue, arguing that it is.

Much of our work has focused on this aim, together with issues regarding its implementation, in particular: measurement of wellbeing. Work that is focused on policies for mental health is summarised in the Mental Health section.

Watch the video which summarises how the Wellbeing programme is making personal happiness and wellbeing a goal of public policy:

Below we summarise some key recent work in the following two main areas of Wellbeing Policy.

- Wellbeing as an Objective for Policymakers

- Wellbeing Measurement

  • Wellbeing as an Objective for Policymakers

    New global models of progress

    Worldwide, there is a search for new models of progress. The OECD has for some years been attempting to redefine progress, and in July last year the UN General Assembly advocated greater priority for policies that promote happiness.  In 2012, the United Nations held a high-level conference on what this involves, which saw the launch of the World Happiness Report. Richard Layard, Jeff Sachs and John Helliwell co-edit the reports - which have been published in 2012, 2013, 2015 and an update in 2016. Professor Layard also chaired the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Health and Wellbeing, which produced a report at Davos in January 2012, WellBeing and Global Success. The CEP Wellbeing programme also now acts as the Cross-Cutting Evidence Group in the newly-funded UK What Works Centre for Wellbeing.

    Commission for Wellbeing

    Richard Layard was on the Commission for Wellbeing Policy chaired by Gus O'Donnell which aimed to set out how wellbeing policy could actually work (including new forms of cost-benefit analysis, together with some obvious new policy priorities). Its report, Wellbeing and Policy, was launched in 2014. Gus O'Donnell also wrote a chapter on wellbeing and policy in the World Happiness Report 2013.

    Happiness and public policy: a challenge to the profession

    In an earlier paper, Richard Layard argues that economists need to reform public economics theory to reflect the fact that despite large increases in income over the past decades, people are no happier. He calls for economists to incorporate the findings of modern psychology into their models, while retaining the rigour of cost-benefit frameworks that are a key strength of the subject.

    Happiness and Public Policy: A Challenge to the Profession - published in The Economic Journal, 2006.

    A new form of cost-benefit analysis

    Richard Layard and Gus O'Donnell are developing a new form of cost-benefit analysis with wellbeing as the unit of benefit. This is outlined in Wellbeing and Policy, and in Chapter 4 of the World Happiness Report 2015. Richard Layard has also written a working paper, "Wellbeing measurement and cost-effectiveness analysis".

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  • Wellbeing Measurement

    Measures of SWB for policy purposes

    Paul Dolan, Richard Layard and Rob Metcalfe wrote a CEP special report in which they proposed the measures later adopted by the Office for National Statistics and the OECD as standard measures of subjective wellbeing (SWB). The modern science of happiness enables us to measure people's quality of life in meaningful ways - reported happiness is well-correlated with objective measurements in the brain and with the kinds of factors, like unemployment, which we would expect to matter. The aim is to provide a fuller picture of how society is doing by supplementing existing economic, social and environmental measures.

    Measuring Subjective Wellbeing for Public Policy: Recommendations on Measures

    The effects of survey mode on reported wellbeing

    Paul Dolan and Georgios Kavetsos (2012) study how subjective wellbeing reports differ by mode of survey administration. Using data from the 2011 Annual Population Survey in the UK, they find that individuals consistently report higher SWB over the phone compared to face-to-face interviews. They also show that the determinants of SWB differ significantly by survey mode. They conclude that we must account for mode of administration effects in research into SWB and its determinants.

    Happy Talk: Mode of Administration Effects on Subjective Well-Being.

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