It’s two months since we last posted here, which is undoubtedly too long: sorry.
Prime Minister David Cameron gave subjective wellbeing research a big thumbs-up in a major speech last month (transcript, YouTube clip):
[T]oday the government is asking the Office of National Statistics to devise a new way of measuring wellbeing in Britain. And so from April next year, we’ll start measuring our progress as a country, not just by how our economy is growing, but by how our lives are improving; not just by our standard of living, but by our quality of life.
Cameron went on to quote from Robert Kennedy’s inspiring 1968 speech on the inadequacies of GDP as a measure of “that which makes life worthwhile” (you can hear Kennedy courtesy of the New Economics Foundation’s excellent National Accounts of Wellbeing).
Afterwards, the Prime Minister was shown details of work already being done to measure and explain wellbeing in the UK, with Mappiness being highlighted by Defra chief economist Richard Price. We’re keen to work with government to help understand links between environment and wellbeing.
We were invited to present on mappiness at last week’s Sustainable Development Research Network annual conference, and we’ll be speaking again at TEDxBrighton on 21 January. Tickets are free, and registration is open until Christmas.
We’ve started joining response data with habitat data from the Land Cover Map 2000 and weather data from Weather Underground.
On average, people seem to be happier when outdoors in almost all kinds of natural environment than they are in cities. (We include lots of control variables in a ‘fixed effects’ regression, which uses only the variation within each individual’s responses, and treat the ‘Happy’ feelings slider as a linear scale from 0 to 100. We find that responses in natural environments are happier by between +1 and +5 points on the scale.)
People are less happy when it’s raining — and even less happy if they’re outdoors at the time. When outdoors, people are happier in higher temperatures and lower wind speeds too.
These findings are reassuringly intuitive (you might even say obvious). But what makes them exciting is that they don’t just leave us saying, for example, that ‘green space is nice’. Rather, they can tell us precisely how nice green space is, and how nice many other things are too, which may ultimately help us manage our environment better.
We hope to have an academic paper ready to submit by early February, at which point we’ll be able to provide more detail on these results.
Can we talk?
Since Mappiness is a pretty novel kind of study, we’re interested in doing some more qualitative research with participants. This would be looking at people’s experiences of taking part, probably through interviews or focus groups.
The details are by no means finalised, but if you’d be willing to be contacted about helping us with such research in future (with no committment), please send George a quick email.
Our current priority is giving participants access to their own data. This is a feature we’ve been promising for quite some time now, and will be accompanied by the ability to make textual notes alongside your responses — allowing you to add further explanation of particularly (un)happy moments, and potentially even to use the app as a kind of randomly-sampled journal.
We don’t yet have a fixed date for this update, but look out for it early in the new year.
When will it end?
We’ve had several emails asking how long the study will run.
We have no plans to close down mappiness while a substantial number of people are still participating. Today we’ll be sending one or more beeps to each of the 8,400 participants who are currently active, so we hope to be carrying on a while longer.
As it says in the sign-up information, though, you can take part for as long or as short a period as you like. There’s no cut-off point: response #576 is just as valuable as response #1. (And yes, one participant has provided 576 responses: if that’s you, many thanks!).
As soon as you’ve had enough – whether it’s after one beep or one thousand – you should feel free to opt out. You can: (a) set your ‘Beeps per day’ to zero in the app Settings, which retains access to your happiness charts, and will enable you to download all your data when that feature is ready; or (b) simply delete the app, in which case your charts and data will no longer be available.
In the meantime, it’s fantastic to have you on board!