Much of the happiness and well-being research that you read about is based on answers to very simple self-report questions: How satisfied are you with your life overall? How happy have you been recently? How often have you felt miserable in the last two weeks? and so on.
Reliance on these kinds of measures has sometimes led to criticism. But there has always been plenty of evidence that even such apparently simplistic self-report questions can be potent indicators of physical and psychological well-being. A striking example is this new study, which tracked older adults over a five year period.
Those with self-reported depression [rating of agreement with the statement: “I felt depressed”] had a 5-year mortality of 30.2% versus 19.7% in those without self-reported depression […] . This association persisted after adjustment for age, sex, education, functional status, and cognition
Subjective indicators will never tell the whole story and, as we set-out at some length in our National Accounts of Well-being, policy makers need to use multiple measures to truly understand how people feel and function in their lives and so make better decisions. But every now and again it’s nice to reconfirm that self-reported measures of well-being really do map-on to “hard” outcomes, and in a useful way.