How happy do you feel today? It’s more than just a polite social question. How happy or unhappy we are may be one of the most important but least-noticed societal measures. We talk about that with Jon Clifton, the CEO of Gallup and author of “Blind Spot: The Global Rise of Unhappiness and How Leaders Missed It.”
The following is a transcript of a report from "Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson." Watch the video by clicking the link at the end of the page.
Sharyl: You've said that world leaders tend to pay close attention to other measures like gross domestic product or unemployment, but not so much to their own citizens' well-being. Why do you think that is?
Jon Clifton: I think one is because they feel like they can quantify things like how much money we make, whether or not we have jobs, or whether or not somebody was born, or whether or not they died. But they feel like these feelings are more of amorphous terms and too hard to capture. And it's not true. In fact, there are other ways that you can actually demonstrate that there's an individual and how they feel. You can ask their family and friends and they say exactly the same thing — that they know how those individuals feel. So there is good survey validation that you can capture these feelings in a measurable way.
Sharyl: Why do you think it's important that leaders understand the happiness or unhappiness level of their constituents?
Jon Clifton: The reason they need to be paying attention to these things is because two of the single biggest issues that's facing humanity today are two things that are not really focused on. The first one is global loneliness. 300 million adults say they don't have a single friend or family member in their life. And it's not just the quantity of friends; it's also quality. Twenty percent of all adults everywhere don't have anyone they can rely on in a time of need. And this loneliness issue is a massive concern for everyone.
The second one is workplaces. Any estimate in terms of how many hours we spend working — one estimate is 115,000 hours in a lifetime. That's exactly the same amount as 13 straight years of a person's life. And right now, people are miserable at work. And the source of the misery is often someone's boss. But if you capture that misery and quantify it, somebody who has a bad job looks statistically, emotionally like someone who has no work whatsoever, and that's a serious problem.
Sharyl: What are some of the big events — name one or two — that people missed or leaders missed because they weren't really picking up on this sense of happiness or unhappiness.
Jon Clifton: Absolutely. So one of them is the Arab uprisings. And if we look back to places like Egypt and Tunisia and GDP per capita, it grew in almost a perfect linear fashion. But when we look at it in terms of how people were saying how their lives were going, both were crashing.
Another place where we saw this was Brexit. In June of 2016, GDP per capita grew at about 2% in the quarter before the vote. And when we asked people about how their lives were going, we found that it was crashing. We saw one of the largest two-year declines that we've ever seen in the history of our database in the lead-up to that vote. This is why leaders need to pay attention not just to what people are doing and what they're making, but also how they're feeling.
Sharyl: Over time, is there a way to tell what has made people the happiest? Or are you only looking at unhappiness?
Jon Clifton: No, we're absolutely looking at both terms — both happiness and unhappiness.
One thing that is very powerful in a person's life is money. Now money does not necessarily buy happiness, but it is very hard to be happy without it. So as long as your basic needs are met, after that, the only thing that actually gets you more happiness is things like time with family and friends. And this is why one of the issues of loneliness that we're encouraging more to pay more attention to is so big for the world today.
Sharyl (on-camera): Interestingly, Clifton says compared to 15 years ago, a lot more people rate their lives as either a perfect 10 or a worst-imaginable zero. He says social media may have impacted and magnified people’s views of their own circumstances.
Watch story here.