Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 587–606 | Cite as

We Are Happier than We Realize: Underestimation and Conflation in Measuring Happiness

  • Jason A. HusserEmail author
  • Kenneth E. Fernandez
Research Paper


The study evaluates a very common question designed to measure happiness: “Taken all together, how would you say things are these days–would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?” Through five representative survey experiments, we show that (1) this survey item underestimates the level of happiness with one’s life; (2) this is because the measure is more likely to reflect satisfaction with the state of the world rather than personal life; (3) this measures is more susceptible to priming; (4) the addition of three words “in your life” to the item greatly reduces priming and question order effects; and (5) the addition of these three words produces results that are very similar to life satisfaction measures that include “in your life” and are more positively associated with income. These results provide evidence that a simple correction better measures personal happiness. Furthermore, our findings reassess the foundation of a considerable volume of scholarship about how politics and income is associated happiness.


Survey methods Happiness measurement Question wording Experiments 

Supplementary material

10902_2016_9831_MOESM1_ESM.docx (17 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 17 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Elon UniversityElonUSA
  2. 2.College of Southern NevadaLas VegasUSA

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