March 20 marked the first International Day of Happiness. In the past decade, there has been a lot of research at the national level and we now understand a certain amount about what factors lead to happiness. Santa Monica is trying to take it down to the local level. They are committed to measuring the well-being of their residents and use this to guide their long-term planning and evaluation. Their Well-Being Project recently won a Bloomberg Mayor’s Prize. You can read about it here, although, if you can explain in detail what they intend to do, I’ll buy you a non-sugared soft drink.
In social services, it still seems like we focus on what is troubling our clients rather that what makes them happy. The recovery movement, positive psychology, strengths-based assessment and other initiatives are trying to refocus our model around promoting well-being rather than illness. But, those of us who believe in outcome-guided social service have to deal with the fact that illness is a lot easier to quantify than well-being. Also, the elements of well-being seem to vary much more significantly across cultures than do the elements of illness. In one clinic, we tried to use a tool that asked a question about happiness and we found that the concept of happiness was utterly puzzling to some of our older Chinese clients. They hadn’t thought about it, didn’t see why we were asking about it, and couldn’t figure out why we should think it was central to quality of life.
We have come across a great Quality of Life measure tool which we have automated for Circe. It is called the WHOQoL. (World Health Organization Quality of Life Index). It assesses the individual’s perceptions in the context of their culture and value systems, and their personal goals, standards and concerns.
The WHOQoL comes in two versions, the WHOQoL 100 and the WHOQol-BREF. The WHOQoL BREF is a 24 question inventory that can be completed in about 20 minutes. It comes with six subscales: physical health, psychological health, social relationships, and 2 items which measure overall QOL and general health. It’s available now in more than 20 languages and has been field tested in the US and in many countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This is a good site to check out the WHOQoL.