Introducing: The Happiness Index

The press is calling it the Dow Jones Industrial Average of American well-being. Every day, since January of this year, pollsters have called 1,000 Americans to quiz them on their health and happiness.

The first set of results from this unprecedented survey were released on Wednesday, as the inaugural report of The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, and they find that 47 percent of Americans are struggling to stay afloat, and 4 percent are suffering as a result of money woes and illness. The remaining 49 percent say they are thriving, based on their quality of life and outlook on their future.

The index will continue to be updated daily, and will eventually be able to give a breakdown of well-being by profession, commute times, even ZIP codes.

All that data should be welcomed by researchers — like Freakonomics guest-bloggers Justin Wolfers and Arthur Brooks— who study happiness.

Now we’re curious: where would you put yourself on the index’s well-being ladder. Thriving, struggling, or suffering? And why?


Thriving. I've been HIV positive for at least 24 years and have had "full blown" AIDS for 16 years. Never was able to get a real career off the ground. Nearly died three different times and lost my partner of twenty years. He had a lot of life insurance and left it to me. New cutting edge drugs have restored my health and I've gained 40 pounds. I own a home and don't have to work. I have a wonderful new partner and we got married. I am grateful.


Thriving. Life is great. Building a new house, about to start a new job with a 46% increase in pay...what more can I ask? We are even considering the idea of early retirement for my husband.

College towns are somewhat insulated from economic difficulties. Little housing crisis here - building is booming. Unemployment has changed by very little. I highly recommend life in a college town.

Donna B.

The answer they would get at this household would depend on whether I or my husband answered. Obviously we live very much the same, yet he's disillusioned that's it's never going to get much better.

I'm thrilled it got this good. We're certainly not struggling, though with increased gasoline prices we are being more careful.

Healthwise, we've both conquered a serious illness once, though we may be facing another one. I figure I did it once, I can do it again. My husband says, "What next?"

Sometimes we both laugh that with such different attitudes we were ever attracted to each other, much less got married.

So, Phil, who said above that that this survey may be measuring ways of thinking, optimism or pessimism, is on the right track.

Glossolalia Black

I recently discovered that I'm in the bottom 20% as far as yearly earnings go. (-1 to happiness.) Concurrently, I am also at the most financially stable place I've ever been all my life (+1 to happiness) and aware that there's really no such thing as job stability anymore.

Cautiously optimistic? Hoping for the best but expecting the worst? I don't know what emotions those are supposed to elicit in the average human, but it makes me nervous and thankful.

Troy Camplin, Ph.D.

I wold count myself high on the happiness meter for several reasons:

1) I have a wonderful, supportive wife

2) I have a beautiful 17 month old baby girl

3) I have started a free market think tank, The Emerson Institute for Freedom and Culture, which is at the organizational level, but which already has submissions to the website/journal from some pretty interesting people.

4) I love to read scholarly work, and get to daily.

5) I love to read literature, and get to daily.

6) I love to write, and get to daily.

Certainly life's not perfect. With my Ph.D. in the Humanities, I have had a hard time getting a job. It seems the anti-science postmodernist Left-wing nihilists who run our humanities departments don't want a free market scholar who uses evolution to explain the value of the arts and humanities. Which is why I'm striking out on my own with EIFC. The goal: to educate the people through the culture about how the world works in all its beautiful complexity.



I agree that these words are strong, like primary colors -- and sometimes surviving in a republic is shades of gray. I'm dealing with catastrophic health problems that my so-called insurance pays little of, which is damaging my savings and means that I can no longer continue in my profession -- so I must train for another one, unless I get very lucky in the next six months. I do worry about money, and starting over.

On the other hand, when I can, I work at something I love, I have a wonderful man in my life and many friends I value. My family is mostly healthy and doing better than 98% of the world.

Each day is a gift. I try to give back.

"Thruggling" was a good suggestion. We also need "Thruffering". If I can only have one? Then I'll say thriving. It is always perspective that counts.


Will this data be readily available to the public?


I'm going to propose a bit of self-selection bias in our comments and hypothesize that those who consistently read and comment on the Freakonomics blog at are not an accurate cross-section of the public.

That being said, I'm not really suffering either.


I am thriving, too. I am a hedge fund manager. My investors are little old ladies with Alzheimer's. They invest in me repeatedly, having forgotten that they have already done so. I have several wives I see occasionally. I have recently been turned on to cannibalism.

As long as America is the land of freedom and opportunity, I'll be OK.


I'm thriving. My reason: many economists claim happiness is based on your income relative to others around you, and years ago I decided to live a car-free live style, and thus, with increased gas prices, my real income, relative to those around me, has jumped big time in recent months.


I'm going under. I lost my job and can't find a new one and the unpaid bills are piling up. I'm bipolar and without health insurance. The meds that work pretty well to keep me sane and able to work (Lamictal) are very expensive. I have six pills left. I often walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, but I won't be making it all the way across for much longer.

Tom Best

I'm thriving. I have certainty of eternal life through Jesus Christ, so what could be wrong? Also, while on this earth, I'm enjoying my work, getting paid fairly, and have a loving wife and two wonderful children.



My wife and I share a belief that families should strive to live below one's means and invest in their future.

This allowed us to accumulate a modest wealth that has cushioned the bumps along the road of life.

Chris Wren

Two out of three. Thriving and struggling at the same time. My partner and I have a successful illustration business, but we're living under the shadow of declines in paper-based publishing. We're painfully aware that when publication shifts entirely to the net, the budgets that made it possible for publications to hire us will not follow. So we're constantly struggling at the same time as we're doing well, and the rest of our careers will be a scramble to keep up with changing trends in publishing. It'll never end.


Struggling, but optimistic. I'm a recent grad from a well-known university who's momentarily unemployed and will spend 5 minutes in the grocery store convincing herself that she really doesn't need to buy chicken and can't afford it anyway, but I have enough in savings to survive several months frugally but well and I'm not worried that in the long run I won't be able to find a better job than the one I just had.


How valid is a worldview that decouples "struggling" and "thriving"--let alone considers them opposites?

How valid is an index based on that worldview?

How free would any such index be of the prejudices of its authors?

Personally, I am both struggling and thriving--and always have been. You thrive because you deal successfully with life's difficulties and demands--i.e., you struggle.

I'm not saying there aren't problems of inequality and unhappiness in American society. Clearly there vare. But this index seems to set up a goal of of Lotos-Land that is unattainable and self-defeating.

And how happy will we be if we expect such a goal as our right?


Does that include the 7.4 inmates for every 1000 people they call according to the Bureau of Justices Statistics? Or the 6% of the population with serious mental illnesses according to NIMH?

Also .01% of the US population dies from suicide each year (30,000+) and can't participate. So perhaps take the age of the average person and subtract the age of the youngest suicide and then multiply that by the .01% statistic to figure out how many people are not available to participate in the survey so that you can weight it accordingly. Does that make sense?

I guess along those lines you should take all preventable deaths into those statistics as survey takers that could not respond. Tobacco deaths would lead the group.

Anyway for myself I'm struggling. I had been suffering for the first part of the century but with work and persistence I have become pretty solid. I have a pretty good chance of getting to participate on an even level in fair market competition despite the dramatic amount of lost time and resources. By jettisoning the option of children for now, I am back on track.



Hrm, none of the above. My family is in a challenging transition period during which both income and expenses are increasing dramatically. Give us a few more months to figure out the answer.

Witty Nickname

I am going to go with thriving. I live in Houston where the market is booming, even though I don't work in the energy industry it is sure boosting our local economy. I just got a huge raise, we have a new baby and a descent house that is going UP in value.

Oh, and the state in considering us a state tax rebate check because we have a record surplus.


Thriving big time...Moved to South Korea last August. Barely work and get paid very well.
Expat for LIFE :-)