When people asked Dr. George Gallup which public opinion findings interested him most, he quickly chose surveys that measured happiness in the United States.
As was often the case, America's polling pioneer was ahead of his time.
Not unlike Simon Kuznets proposing gross domestic product (GDP) to gauge the national economy, Dr. Gallup sought metrics that would capture the entire country's mood. Gallup's annual report on global emotions, the latest of which is out today, expands Dr. Gallup's prescient interest to the whole world.
Some people might argue that sentiment and emotions are "soft data," and only hard data such as GDP and unemployment really matter to a country's future.
The results from Gallup's 2017 Global Emotions Report serve as a caution against this thinking because of two words: behavioral economics. This field of study suggests that about 30% of individual behavior is rational and the other 70% is emotional. And while organizations have started to apply this insight at a micro level, governments have been slow to do so at a macro level.
Good national indicators such as unemployment and GDP exist to help quantify the 30% of rational behavior, but very little macro-level data exist on the emotional 70%. This overreliance on hard data about rational behavior might explain why global leaders, economists and political scientists missed social upheavals such as the Arab Spring, the Maidan Revolution and Brexit, among others. Gallup's data on the other 70% -- or how people were feeling -- told a different story in each of these places.
The 2017 Global Emotions Report draws from the largest behavioral study of its kind, a project known as the Gallup World Poll. Gallup conducts rigorous surveys in 140 countries each year. Each survey is similar to a labor force survey -- but instead of asking, "Do you have a job?" we simply ask, "How is your life going?"
Also like unemployment statistics, the results from these questions are aggregated to produce national-level figures. The resulting metrics serve as macro-level gauges for the emotional and behavioral side of life.
Gallup's report gives leaders a picture of happiness and well-being in their countries and quantifies "what makes a life worth living."
Highlights from the 2017 report:
- Along with Iranians (50%) and South Sudanese (47%), Iraqis (49%) were the angriest in the world.
- More than 70% of people worldwide said they experienced a lot of enjoyment, smiled or laughed a lot, felt well-rested, and felt treated with respect.
- People were far less likely to say they learned or did something interesting the day before the interview -- just 50% said this was their experience.
- More of the world experienced physical pain in 2016 (30%) than in 2015 (28%).
- Greeks (67%) were the most stressed in the world, while worry was highest in Central African Republic (72%) and Togo (71%).
Read the full report.