Making Government Work

This City is Measuring Progress In An Entirely New Way

April 14, 2014
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This City is Measuring Progress In An Entirely New Way
Justin Mier/Flickr
Santa Monica is the first U.S. city (and probably not the last) to create a happiness index that measure citizens' well-being.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has long been considered the ultimate metric for national prosperity — countries are ranked by the amount of money and goods that flow through them. But the Himalayan country of Bhutan has received tons of attention for its Happiness Index, which measures the psychological well being of its citizens.

Now Santa Monica, California is following in Bhutan’s cheerful footsteps. City officials first began wanting to measure happiness when two public tragedies — a gang shooting of a local resident and the suicide of a ninth grader at a local high school — shook the tranquil beachfront city.

“Grappling with these kinds of issues sort of brought people together to look at new ways of doing things,” city employee and Wellbeing Project director Julie Rusk told Co.Exist.

In 2012, the city released a Youth Wellbeing Report Card, and in March 2013, the city won funding from the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge for attempting to develop a single metric that mayors all over the country could use to measure happiness.

In a video produced for the Mayors Challenge, Santa Monica residents of all ages and races are shown sitting on a public bus. Words related to their well-being (belonging, health, peace of mind, safety, fitness) float over their heads in large white letters. Keeping all these factors in mind, city officials are now working with everyone from psychologists to public health researchers to determine how to quantify and measure public happiness.

Though it’s not yet clear exactly what form the happiness index will take, Santa Monica’s Well-Being team is considering using analytics from Twitter and Facebook, sensor data from roadways, and even voluntary data feeds from residents’ cellphones.

Santa Monica’s goal is to create a happiness index by the end of 2014 that other cities around the country could replicate.

As Pharrell says, clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth.

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