BY KELSEY JOHNSON, Haworth Territory Sales Manager

As the end of 2017 approaches, I find myself reflecting on the personal goals I set back in January. "Choose Happiness" topped the list. I've always believed choice was the key to this concept because I thought of happiness as exactly that: a subjective choice based on one's own personal outlook. Happiness was tied to one's own perspective - how you perceive the world, your life, and your challenges. It was personal, unmeasurable from the outside, biased, and circumstantial.

Until now.

Recently, I've noticed an increase in scientific attention towards the happiness of populations and how to objectively measure it. The United Nations established an official International Day of Happiness, Miami is organizing the first World Happiness Summit, and countries tout their national Happy Planet Index results. The old measure of a country's success - gross domestic product (GDP) - seems to be replaced by quality of life and citizen happiness levels. 

But how do you measure something as personal and ambiguous as happiness?


Defining & MEASURING Happiness

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), whose mission is to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world, defines happiness as an important part of overall well-being, or "good mental states, including all of the various evaluations, positive and negative, that people make of their lives and the affective reactions of people to their experiences." 

In their guidelines, the OECD expands this definition of happiness to include three key elements to measure:

  1. Life Evaluation. The reflective assessment of a person's life or any individual aspect of it.

    • Six Factors:

      • Gross Domestic Product Per Capita

      • Healthy Years of Life Expectancy

      • Social Support (social networks, having someone to count on)

      • Trust (perceived absence of corruption in government and business)

      • Freedom (perceived freedom to make life decisions)

      • Generosity (recent donations of time, talent, or treasure)

  2. Affect. What comprises a person's feelings or emotional states, typically measured in shorter time periods.

  3. Eudemonia. A sense of meaning and purpose in life, or good psychological functioning.


So how are countries measuring up, you ask? Where is the happiest place on earth, and when can you visit? According to the 2017 World Happiness Report, here's a slideshow of the ten happiest nations in the world:

I'm sure you're now saying to yourself, 'Umm, where's the United States on this list?!' It turns out, we're all the way down at 14th, up three slots from the 2010 report. Check out how the top 50 countries rank below. 

Hello? Where'd you go? Packing your bags for Norway?

While that sounds like a dream come true personally, it might not be the most feasible for me. Scrolling back to those six factors of life evaluation - the first being finances - makes me think I'll stick to my roots in Kansas City for just a little longer. :)


So how can we scale this macro-level data down to the workplace? Can design help employees feel more valued, increase their eudemonia or sense of purpose, or even influence their affect or daily emotional states?

This is exactly what Haworth's most recent research initiative is about. We are taking a close look at how, as designers, we can impact employee engagement and the happiness of those employees in the work environment. Our studies have found five key space components that foster more productive, more engaged, healthier, and happier employees. Curious? We thought you might be.


Leading this research effort is Dr. Michael O'Neill, Director of Research at Haworth, and we are super excited to host him in Kansas City on Thursday, October 26th for a lunch and learn about designing for happiness, where we'll dive deeper into those five key components of design and how they translate into better spaces and happier employees.

Come geek out with us as we discuss the science behind what drives happiness in the workplace and what can be done to achieve it through light, furniture, ergonomics, and movement.

Kelsey Headshot Circle-01.png

What are your thoughts? Should employers prioritize their employees' happiness? What about your workplace makes you feel valued? Tell us below!

If you have any questions about Haworth's research or the Designing for Happiness event, email me at kelsey.johnson@haworth.com.