A national quality of life index based on a new research method may soon supplement indicators like the gross domestic product.
Noble laureate and Wilson School professor Daniel Kahneman and economist Alan Krueger were part of an inter-university team that developed the Day Reconstruction Method for measuring the emotional quality of people's daily experiences.
The Day Reconstruction Method requires survey participants to rank specific activities from the previous day on an "enjoyment scale."
Kahneman said he thought a new method of ascertaining people's quality of life was necessary because all previous surveys, such as the standard Experience Sampling Method, ask only "superficial, general questions."
As a result, "global evaluations are inaccurate," Kahneman said.
In their initial survey, 909 working women in Texas composed the sample population.
By analyzing the women's responses to their activities, the research team gauged whether people actually enjoy daily activities by getting their opinions directly after the events occurred.
And the surveyors found some interesting results. For example, people enjoy spending time with their relatives much more than they like to admit — and don't enjoy their children as much as they would like to think.
People also chose "intimate relations" as the most enjoyable activity while commuting ranked last.
Those surveyed also spent, on average, 11.5 hours each day working, doing housework and commuting — some of the least enjoyable activities, according to the research.
Events such as a poor night's sleep had a large impact on how people felt about what they did the following day. Variables like time, pressure at work and companions with whom tasks are accomplished also played a large part in shaping happiness.
According to the group's findings, more general circumstances such as whether each woman was married, single, wealthy, educated or felt she had job security did not have a significant effect on daily happiness.
Kahneman said he did not include men in the survey because he wanted a sufficiently large and specific survey population, but his team does not claim these results "stand for humanity" and didn't want to "generalize too much," he said.
Kahneman added that his team was really "proposing an approach" or "an instrument" that he thinks is necessary for measuring the "burden of disease" that results from the stress of daily life.
Because of the potential implications of the work, the National Institute on Aging, Wilson School, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and National Science Foundation are supporting the research.
Results from the study were published in the Dec. 3 issue of Science magazine.