By Hiroko Sato
GROTON -- Looking at quality-of-life data gathered in various communities some years ago, Michael Roberts said he and fellow members of the Groton Sustainability Committee realized how the analyses centered around numbers.
From the average distance locals drove to work to their gas consumption, the diverse sets of data provided a glimpse into residents' lives.
Roberts said, however, they didn't show how those factors made the residents feel happy or unhappy.
"Nobody thinks of the hearts of people who are practicing (certain lifestyles)," when studying them, Roberts said. "You have to put a heart in it."
That's exactly what the Groton Sustainability Committee hopes to do this summer with the launching of the Community Well-being Project. The committee wants to know how Groton residents are feeling about their lives and the community and help the committee determine how to improve the overall satisfaction.
As the first step toward the goal, the committee, for which Roberts serves as the chairman, will be asking the residents to take part in a survey put together by a Seattle-based nonprofit organization called The Happiness Alliance. There will be Groton-specific web page set up where people can take a survey, according to the organization's Executive Director Laura Musikanski.
But, those who do not want to wait for the page to be set up can take a look at the generic survey available on the alliance's website, happycounts.org.
The survey takes about 20 minutes to complete, according to Roberts, who is now a certified trainer of the Happiness Initiative, which is a project of The Happiness Alliance. Roberts urges people to enter their zip code when prompted should they choose to take the generic survey so that the organization will be able to pull data of all participants from Groton and create a report for Groton. After taking the survey, participants will be able to see how their happiness stacks up against those of people from elsewhere, Roberts said.
The generic survey asks: "Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top. Suppose we say that the top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible." The survey then proceeds to ask participants how happy they are and various other questions.
The Sustainability Committee works to create a community that is economically and environmentally sustainable. Roberts said those who promote sustainability used to focus on policies and regulations. But people are now realizing that rules and numbers don't mean much if they still don't feel happy in the end, Roberts said.
This is why people from around the world are now joining the movement to measure the well-being of a country by the happiness level of its people, or "gross national happiness," rather than by gross domestic product, or GDP, Roberts said.
Bhutan is already using gross national happiness. The Office of National Statistics in the United Kingdom also gathers happiness data from across the country, Musikanski said. Seattle became one of the first cities to measure the happiness level of people in the community in 2011, which was repeated in 2012, Musikanski said.
"This is a whole new way to look at sustainability," Roberts said, calling the movement a "paradigm shift."
"It's a wave of the future," he said.
The survey scores participants' happiness in 10 different "domains" from emotional well-beings to life-and-work balance.