Happier Lives Institute

Happier Lives Institute

Human Wellbeing Research and Advocacy

HLI improves global wellbeing by conducting research on the measurement of wellbeing and applying wellbeing research when identifying and evaluating cost-effective policies and interventions

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 information does Giving What We Can have about HLI’s cost-effectiveness?1.

We looked into HLI as part of our 2023 evaluator research but decided not to continue with the evaluation because we “thought the costs of finalising the evaluation outweighed the potential benefits at this stage.” Please see our HLI report for more details.

Please note that GWWC does not evaluate individual charities. Our recommendations are based on the research of third-party, impact-focused charity evaluators our research team has found to be particularly well-suited to help donors do the most good per dollar, according to their recent evaluator investigations. Our other supported programs are those that align with our charitable purpose — they are working on a high-impact problem and take a reasonably promising approach (based on publicly-available information).

At Giving What We Can, we focus on the effectiveness of an organisation's work -- what the organisation is actually doing and whether their programs are making a big difference. Some others in the charity recommendation space focus instead on the ratio of admin costs to program spending, part of what we’ve termed the “overhead myth.” See why overhead isn’t the full story and learn more about our approach to charity evaluation.