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Somerville's Happiness Survey Results

The city conducted the first wellbeing survey in the country, and it announced its results to the public Tuesday night.

On a scale of 1 to 10, Somerville averages 7.5 when it comes to happiness. 

When it comes to being satisfied with life in general, the number is 7.7.

Those are some of the major results from the city's wellbeing survey, the first ever conducted by a city in the United States.

In fact, the act of collecting data about residents' wellbeing—in what has been dubbed the "happiness survey"—has brought national attention to Somerville. The city has been featured in the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Denver Post and other news outlets around the country, and CBS Evening News is preparing a story on Somerville's happiness initiative.

Tuesday night, the city presented the results of the survey to the public for the first time.

As a brief background, the city, earlier this year, sent a special wellbeing questionnaire to households as part of the annual city census. The questionnaire included questions like, "How happy do you feel right now?" "How satisfied are you with your life in general?" and "Taking everything into account, how satisfied are you with Somerville as a place to live?"

The city also conducted some phone surveys and solicited responses on Facebook. In all, the city collected 6727 responses.

The results go beyond "happy" and "not happy."

For instance, other than discovering that Somervillians seem, in general, fairly content, the researchers learned that the aesthetic beauty of the city is important to people. They also found that income does not necessarily have a strong correlation with happiness: For those who are able to afford the basics in life—shelter, food, maybe a little extra—there is little difference in happiness between the wealthy resident and the average Joe.

"This is really uncharted territory," said Somerville mayor, Joseph Curtatone, Tuesday night, about the wellbeing survey results.

The mayor said, "We're serious about gathering data in Somerville" and that results from the wellbeing survey will serve as a basis for how the city considers future policy initiatives.

For Tara Acker, director of SomerStat, the city office that conducted the survey, and Daniel Hadley, from the same office, this year's survey is just the beginning. The office plans to continue asking residents about happiness and wellbeing, and they plan to produce a report once a year.

The full wellbeing report is available here.

Here is some other information about the wellbeing survey and happiness in Somerville:

  • Somerville partnered with academics, including "happiness guru" and Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert, to conduct the survey.
  • 92 percent of respondents felt Somerville was moving in the right direction.
  • The idea of conducting a wellbeing survey came from news reports that David Cameron, prime minister of the United Kingdom, was attempting to create a wellbeing index.
  • Certain groups and populations were underrepresented in the survey, so the SomerStat office weighted results in an effort to get a more accurate snapshot of happiness in the city.
  • Ward 1, East Somerville, is an outlier in the results. The average happiness in Ward 1 was 8.8, a full point higher than the rest of the city. However, Ward 1 was relatively low in terms of neighborhood satisfaction. It scored 6.9 in neighborhood satisfaction. Small sample size may be an issue.
  • In the future, SomerStat would love to collect geographical data in order to figure out how wellbeing is spread out across the various neighborhoods.
Leslie Schultz August 24, 2011 at 06:52 PM
Glad to see some politicians are taking seriously the right to the pursuit of happiness. Thank you, Mayor Curtatone.
eila August 24, 2011 at 08:49 PM
Was there a particular sector of residents chosen to receive this survey with their Census? How many surveys were mailed?

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