Announcing the launch of the Happier Lives Institute

Fol­low­ing months of work by a ded­i­cated team of vol­un­teers, I am pleased to an­nounce the launch of the Hap­pier Lives In­sti­tute, a new EA or­gani­sa­tion which seeks to an­swer the ques­tion: ‘What are the most effec­tive ways we can use our re­sources to make oth­ers hap­pier?’

Summary

The Hap­pier Lives In­sti­tute is pi­o­neer­ing a new way of think­ing about the cen­tral ques­tion of effec­tive al­tru­ism—how can we benefit oth­ers as much as pos­si­ble? We are ap­proach­ing this through a ‘hap­piness lens’, us­ing in­di­vi­d­u­als’ re­ports of their sub­jec­tive well-be­ing as the mea­sure of benefit. Adopt­ing this ap­proach in­di­cates po­ten­tial new pri­ori­ties, no­tably that men­tal health emerges as a large and ne­glected prob­lem.

Our vi­sion is a world where ev­ery­one lives their hap­piest life.

Our mis­sion is to guide the de­ci­sion-mak­ing of those who want to use their re­sources to most effec­tively make lives hap­pier.

We aim to fulfill our mis­sion by:

1. Search­ing for the most effec­tive giv­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in the world for im­prov­ing hap­piness. We are start­ing by in­ves­ti­gat­ing men­tal health in­ter­ven­tions in low-in­come coun­tries.

2. Assess­ing which ca­reers al­low in­di­vi­d­u­als to have the great­est coun­ter­fac­tual im­pact in terms of pro­mot­ing hap­pier lives.

Our approach

Our work is driven by three be­liefs.

1) We should do the most good we can

We should use ev­i­dence and rea­son to de­ter­mine how we can use our re­sources to benefit oth­ers the most. We fol­low the guid­ing prin­ci­ples of effec­tive al­tru­ism: com­mit­ment to oth­ers, sci­en­tific mind­set, open­ness, in­tegrity, and col­lab­o­ra­tive spirit.

2) Hap­piness is what ul­ti­mately matters

Philoso­phers use the word ‘well-be­ing’ to re­fer to what is ul­ti­mately good for some­one. We think well-be­ing con­sists in hap­piness, defined as a pos­i­tive bal­ance of en­joy­ment over suffer­ing. Un­der­stood this way, this means that when we re­duce mis­ery, we in­crease hap­piness. Fur­ther, we be­lieve well-be­ing is the only thing which is in­trin­si­cally good, that is, that mat­ters in and of it­self. Other goods, such as wealth, health, jus­tice, and equal­ity are in­stru­men­tally valuable: they are not valuable in them­selves, but be­cause and to the ex­tent that they in­crease hap­piness.

3) Hap­piness can be measured

The last few decades have seen an ex­plo­sion of re­search into ‘sub­jec­tive well-be­ing’ (SWB), with about 170,000 books and ar­ti­cles pub­lished in the last 15 years. SWB is mea­sured us­ing self-re­ports of peo­ple’s emo­tional states and global eval­u­a­tions of life satis­fac­tion; these mea­sures have been shown to be valid and re­li­able. We be­lieve SWB scores are the best available mea­sure of hap­piness; there­fore, we should use these scores, rather than any­thing else (in­come, health, ed­u­ca­tion, etc.) to de­ter­mine what makes peo­ple hap­pier.

Speci­fi­cally, we ex­pect to rely on life satis­fac­tion as the pri­mary met­ric. This is typ­i­cally mea­sured by ask­ing “Over­all, how satis­fied are you with your life nowa­days?” (0 − 10). While we think mea­sures of emo­tional states are closer to an ideal mea­sure of hap­piness, far fewer data of this type is available. A longer ex­pla­na­tion of our ap­proach to mea­sur­ing hap­piness can be found here.

When we take these three be­liefs to­gether, the ques­tion: “How can we do the most good?” be­comes, more speci­fi­cally: “What are the most cost-effec­tive ways to in­crease self-re­ported sub­jec­tive well-be­ing?”

Our strategy

So­cial sci­en­tists have col­lected a wealth of data on the causes and cor­re­lates of hap­piness. While there are now grow­ing efforts to de­ter­mine how best to in­crease hap­piness through pub­lic policy, no EA or­gani­sa­tion has yet at­tempted to trans­late this in­for­ma­tion into recom­men­da­tions about what the most effec­tive ways are for pri­vate ac­tors to make lives hap­pier. The Hap­pier Lives In­sti­tute in­tends to fill this gap.

In do­ing this, we hope to com­ple­ment the rigor­ous and ground-break­ing work un­der­taken by GiveWell and 80,000 Hours and to col­lab­o­rate with them where fea­si­ble. To high­light the di­ver­gences, our ‘hap­piness lens’ ap­proach is a differ­ent ap­proach to as­sess­ing im­pact from the one GiveWell takes; GiveWell does not fo­cus on men­tal health; we aim to in­ves­ti­gate more spec­u­la­tive giv­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and those out­side global health and de­vel­op­ment. 80,000 Hours pri­mar­ily fo­cuses on the long-term; we in­tend to provide guidance to those who ca­reers will fo­cus on (hu­man) welfare-max­imi­sa­tion in the nearer-term.

Cur­rent work

Our work is di­vided into two streams.

  1. A re­search group is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the most promis­ing giv­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties among men­tal health in­ter­ven­tions in lower and mid­dle-in­come coun­tries. We’ve de­vel­oped a screen­ing tool to as­sess a list of nearly 200 in­ter­ven­tions stated on the Men­tal Health In­no­va­tion Net­work web­site. The eight mem­bers of our screen­ing team give these in­di­vi­d­ual rat­ings, which we then check for in­ter-rater re­li­a­bil­ity. Once we’ve moved through the list, we will build cost-effec­tive­ness mod­els for the most promis­ing in­ter­ven­tions.

  2. In­di­vi­d­u­als pur­su­ing pro­jects taken from our re­search agenda. Cur­rent pro­jects are on pos­i­tive ed­u­ca­tion (Jide Alaga), ca­reers (Teis Ras­mussen), per­sonal hap­piness in­ter­ven­tions (Stephan Tegt­meier), and the na­ture and mea­sure­ment of hap­piness (Michael Plant). Fur­ther in­for­ma­tion on in­di­vi­d­u­als’ pro­jects can be found on our Team page.

Fu­ture plans

Our re­search agenda con­sists of three sec­tions:

  • Cause ar­eas: ex­plains how our six main cause ar­eas (men­tal health, pain, pos­i­tive ed­u­ca­tion, so­cietal change, drug policy re­form, re­search) were iden­ti­fied and pre­sents spe­cific ques­tions re­lated to each.

  • More gen­eral re­search ques­tions: sets out fur­ther rele­vant re­search ques­tions that are not speci­fi­cally re­lated to one of the six cause ar­eas.

  • Towards prac­ti­cal recom­men­da­tions: iden­ti­fies re­search ques­tions that seem par­tic­u­larly rele­vant for de­ter­min­ing what effec­tive al­tru­ists should do right now. This is based on our cur­rent un­der­stand­ing and, nat­u­rally, is sub­ject to change de­pend­ing on the in­sights gained from an­swer­ing the re­search ques­tions stated in the pre­ced­ing sec­tions.

The re­search agenda is open and we wel­come in­di­vi­d­u­als to take top­ics and in­ves­ti­gate them. If you would like to work on one of these please email hello@hap­pier­livesin­sti­tute.org so we can provide as­sis­tance and avoid un­nec­es­sary du­pli­ca­tion of work.

Take action

What can do if you want to con­tribute to our mis­sion?

The books and ar­ti­cles on our read­ing list will help you to deepen your un­der­stand­ing of what hap­piness is, how to mea­sure it, what af­fects it and what can be done to im­prove it.

We have not com­pleted suffi­cient re­search to make con­fi­dent recom­men­da­tions about the most effec­tive in­ter­ven­tions for im­prov­ing hap­piness. How­ever, we have iden­ti­fied some promis­ing or­gani­sa­tions which we be­lieve are do­ing valuable work. If you are look­ing for high-im­pact giv­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to in­crease world hap­piness then this is the best place to start.

As our re­search de­vel­ops, we in­tend to pub­lish de­tailed ca­reer pro­files to guide peo­ple who want to ded­i­cate their ca­reers to max­imis­ing the hap­piness of oth­ers. In the mean­time, we’ve listed some ini­tial ideas we think are promis­ing. If you would be in­ter­ested in vol­un­teer­ing with us, you can find more in­for­ma­tion on that here.

Fol­low our work

If you would like to be kept up­dated about our work then please sign up to our monthly e-newslet­ter and fol­low us on Face­book, Twit­ter and LinkedIn.

We will also be con­tribut­ing reg­u­larly to the Effec­tive Altru­ism, Men­tal Health, and Hap­piness Face­book group which has over 1,000 mem­bers.

Feedback

We greatly value your feed­back, par­tic­u­larly in this early stage of our or­gani­sa­tional de­vel­op­ment. Please post your ques­tions and com­ments be­low or email us di­rectly at hello@hap­pier­livesin­sti­tute.org. We ex­pected to pub­lish a Fre­quently Asked Ques­tions page on our web­site in the next few weeks to ad­dress any ar­eas of con­fu­sion or ob­jec­tions to our work.