OECD releases first comprehensive guidelines on measuring subjective well-being


20/03/2013  - The OECD has taken a major step forward in measuring how we feel about our lives.


Newly released Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being establish the first comprehensive framework for internationally comparable and intellectually robust data on this topic. These Guidelines provide advice on the collection and use of measures of subjective well-being, and will allow statisticians and researchers to better measure how individuals evaluate and experience their lives.


The Guidelines, developed under the OECD’s Better Life Initiative, stem from the growing interest in looking beyond traditional ways of measuring economic performance to provide a broader picture of social progress.  The need for national statistics agencies to collect and publish measures of subjective well-being was a key recommendation of the 2009 Report of the Stiglitz – Sen –Fitoussi Commission on the Measurement of Economic  Performance and Social Progress, established by the French Government .


For Martine Durand, the OECD’s Chief Statistician, measures of subjective well-being have the potential to play an important role to inform decision making. “Subjective well-being data can provide an important complement to other indicators already used for monitoring and benchmarking counties performance, for guiding people’s choices, and for designing and delivering policies.”


But she insisted that subjective well-being can only tell part of the story. “To provide a fuller picture, subjective well-being data must be examined alongside information on more objective aspects of life,” she added.


The Your Better Life Index offers an example of the wider picture. It aims to measure how societies are faring in a number of areas – from jobs, health and housing through to civic engagement and subjective well-being – and allows citizens to determine which of these are most important to their own well-being.


The definition of subjective well-being used in the Guidelines extends beyond the idea of ‘happiness’ to cover three elements:


  • Life evaluation - reflective assessment on a person’s life or some specific aspect of it.
  • Affect – a  person’s feelings or  emotional states, typically measured with reference to  shorter time periods
  • Eudemonia – a sense of meaning and purpose in life, or good psychological functioning.


The Guidelines are intended to be used as a resource for data producers developing their own surveys, but also include sections that will be more relevant to potential users of subjective well-being data such as policy analysts and economists.


The guidelines discuss the reliability and validity of subjective well-being measurement as well as methodological issues such as the nature of surveys used and the design, order and wording of questions. Recommendations are provided on reporting and analysing the data collected and ways of mitigating the effect of various sources of bias. Examples of surveys and prototype questions are also included.


Further information about the Guidelines on Measuring Subjective Well-being or about the OECD’s Better Life Initiative are available from Conal Smith of the OECD’s Statistics Division (tel.: + 331 45 24 97 05); the OECD’s Media Division (tel.: +331 45 24 81 03) or


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