Happier Lives Institute

Happier Lives Institute

The Happier Lives Institute is a nonprofit research organisation searching for the most effective ways to measure and increase global wellbeing.

What problem is Happier Lives Institute working on?

The pursuit of happiness as the goal of life is a very old idea, but it’s only in recent decades that academics have developed valid and reliable ways to measure wellbeing through self-reports. Now, for the first time in human history, we can work out the best ways to improve global happiness in a scientifically rigorous way.

Happier Lives Institute’s approach is driven by three beliefs:

  1. We should do the most good we can.
  2. Happiness is what ultimately matters.
  3. Happiness can be measured.

What does Happier Lives Institute do?

The Happier Lives Institute was set up to answer this question: “What are the most effective ways we can use our resources to make others happier?”

Drawing on and developing previous work in the fields of philosophy, economics, and psychology, HLI conducts both:

  • Foundational research on the nature and measurement of wellbeing.
  • Applied research to synthesise the existing data on subjective wellbeing to discover which interventions and policies will have the biggest impact on global wellbeing.

To identify where additional resources can do the most good, HLI follows a three-stage process:

  1. Explore neglected global problems.
  2. Identify cost-effective interventions for alleviating those problems.
  3. Evaluate the best organisations that deliver those interventions.

HLI compares these interventions and charities using a universal metric called wellbeing-adjusted life years (WELLBYs). One WELLBY is equivalent to a 1-point increase on a 0-10 life satisfaction scale for one year. Unlike measures of health or wealth, WELLBYs capture the overall benefit people receive from an intervention, which allows HLI to make apples-to-apples comparisons between interventions that impact different outcomes.

So far, HLI has evaluated four promising interventions using WELLBYs (with a focus on low-income countries to improve cost-effectiveness): ​cash transfers, group psychotherapy, deworming pills, and antimalarial bednets.

HLI has plans to evaluate more interventions and charities in terms of their impact on subjective wellbeing in 2023 and beyond — see its research agenda for more.

What evidence is there of HLI’s effectiveness?

HLI meets the criteria to be listed on our donation platform because:

  • The Giving What We Can research team believes it produces high-quality research on an important and promising approach to improving human wellbeing.
  • One of our trusted evaluators, Founders Pledge, also shared that it believed HLI's research was high quality. (Our trusted evaluators are charitable giving experts who focus on impact — their research into the best charities means your donations can do even more good. Learn more about charity evaluators we trust and why.)
  • To our knowledge, HLI has not (at least yet) been directly evaluated by any of our trusted evaluators.

All the above mean that we believe HLI meets our criteria as an organisation doing "highly promising work in a high-impact cause area, but hasn’t been evaluated yet." See our inclusion criteria.

At Giving What We Can, we focus on the effectiveness of an organisation’s work, which considers much more than just the administration costs of the organisation. Learn more about this common “overhead myth” and our approach to charity evaluation.

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