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The Happiness Project


 The following picture shows a park in Somerville

"It may seem odd for a city government to ask people how happy they are. Traditionally government just does what it does and hopes people are happy with it, or at least not actively angry.Yet what is the purpose of government if not to enhance the well-being of the public? We are public servants and we should be focused on making your life better. Our orienting values in Somerville are that we should be a great place to live, work, play and raise a family. The happiness survey is a way for us to get hard data on how well we are delivering on those values." - Mayor Joe Curtatone

The idea came from news reportfs of David Cameron's attempt to create a wellbeing index as well as stories of the longstanding attempt by Bhutan to track gross national happiness. Those, along with various reports and publications from academia, provided the impetus for our survey.



“The data may show nothing of interest or they may hold big surpriNighttime picture of the city of Somervilleses — you just can’t tell until you collect them,” Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University told the New York Times. “But given that it costs nothing to add some questions about happiness to a census that is already going out, why wouldn’t  you?”

  Somerville is the first city in the United States to survey its residents on their happiness and wellbeing. Other organizations have performed such surveys - notably Gallup Inc., and Sustainable Seattle - but ours is the first municipality to spearhead its own survey and send a copy to each household.

The idea came from news reports of David Cameron's attempt to create a wellbeing index as well as stories of the longstanding attempt by Bhutan to track gross national happiness. Those, along with various reports and publications from academia, provided the impetus for our survey.



 The city used three different collection methods:

  • Citywide mailing (6,167)
  • Random-number dialing (200)
  • Web-based surveys (360)

The following graph describes the sample population used to conduct this study.

The following graph describes the sample population used to conduct this study.

 To correct for certain sampling biases, SomerStat applied age and race weights to the data. These weights do not entirely correct for the fact that certain demographics are underrepresented (e.g. Latinos), but they help level the results.


"How happy are you right now?"          

Child with father in front of Powederhouse SQ                                                                                                                                                                      


                        The following table shows the answers to the question: "How happy are you right now?                                                                                                   

Graph showing results of survey to the question "How happy are you right now?"


The below table shows answers to the question: "How satisfied are you with your city in general?"

  Graph showing results of survey to the question "How satisfied are you with your life in general?"



Man on bicycle on the streets of Somerville 















Table showing answers to the question: "Is Somerville going in the right direction or wrong direction?"


 Overall, would you say that Somerville is moving in the right direction or the wrong direction? [



 Interestingly, the results showed that both life satisfaction and momentary happiness were correlated to how people rate their city and their neighborhood. As satisfaction with the city went up, so did people’s happiness scores.

Correlation does not mean causation. It’s possible that happier people have a rosier view of the city; but in this case, it is not a stretch to imagine that living in a clean, beautiful, efficiently run city is making people happier.  



Certain services are more closely correlated to satisfaction with the city than others. Some, surprisingly, were not correlated at all, or had a tenuous relationship to how residents ranked their satisfaction with Somerville.

After controlling for income and other demographic factors, a few services stood out as having the strongest relationship to satisfaction with the city and its neighborhoods:


•       Traffic and parking enforcement

•       Appearance and maintenance of parks

•       Code enforcement

•       Public schools

•       The effectiveness of the police

•       The beauty or physical setting of the city



   Top Requests for Service Improvement from the Survey



 It may be that it is simply too early to reach certain policy conclusions from the happiness data. Somerville has taken the important first step to begin tracking its residents’ wellbeing, but there are still conversations to be had about what this data ultimately means for city government.

Nevertheless, we consider this survey a success in that the data have already pointed us toward new policies and important policy considerations for the future.

For example, the city recently allocated more resources to the Traffic and Parking Department, largely due to suggestions that came in through the survey. Mayor Curtatone also announced his intention to use data from the survey to examine and improve customer service in other key departments where it seems to be lagging.

Given the ground-breaking nature of the wellbeing survey, it was not long before members of the press took interest. First the Christian Science Monitor ran a piece, and then John Tierney from the New York Times wrote a front-page article that appeared in newspapers around the country.

If you would like to know more about the Happiness Project, we encourge you to take a look at the COMPLETE REPORT on the survey, the background, methology, and results.

Happiness press

TedX Somerville Part II

The Densest Population in MA: Ideas from TEDxSomerville #TEDxVille

New England Town Asks How Happy Are You? - CBS Evening News (National)

How Happy Are You with Your City? Somerville Finds Out - The Atlantic

Somervillians Rate Their Happiness 7.5 Out Of 10 - WBUR

Somerville Officials smiling over happiness survey -

Somerville to release results of happiness survey tonight - 

Survery says Somerville residents not happy about parking - Boston Globe

Somerville's Happiness Survey Results -

Defining, and Measuring, Happiness -

Can Government Make You Happy? | IdeaFeed | Big Think

In Somerville, Massachusetts, a Census Asks, Are You Happy? -

Somerville officials seek the secrets to happiness -

How Happy Are You? In a Boston Suburb, It’s a Census Question

How Happy Are You? In a Boston Suburb, It’s a Census Question : TrueReddit

Boston suburb trying to track its residents' happiness - The Denver Post

Survey samples happiness of residents - Times Union

Massachusetts census polls city on happiness

Not 2 be Missed | Suburb is asking: Are you happy? | The Columbus Dispatch

Mass. town asks: Are you happy? | & The Charlotte Observer Newspaper

City of Somerville Happiness Survey « Life in the 'Ville

Somerville’s happiness project | People Who Love Their Jobs

This Is Interesting: Somerville Measures Happiness |

Somerville Featured in the New York Times « How I Met Your State

City program to measure residents happiness

happy.: American City Also Getting into the Happiness Measurement Game

Mass. Town Aims to Up Its Happiness Quotient

Somerville, Mass., aims to boost happness. Can it? -

Is Gross National Happiness Next? | Geater Good

The real Pursuit of Happiness - Seatte Public Policy |

Somerville census in the Sunday Ties | Somerville Blog

Actuelles — The Pursuit of Happinss

davis_square: Somerville on front page of Sunday NYT

ResiStat: Search results for happiness

The Question of Happiness » Engage!

Measuring Happiness « Pluck Magazine

Measuring happiness comes close to home | Social Capital Blog

Griffin: Elements for bringing happiness in later life - Somerville, Massachusetts 02144 - Somerville Journal

Griffin: Apply Somerville's happiness survey to later life - Somerville, Massachusetts 02144 - Somerville Journal

How Happy Are You Right Now? Somerville’s Mayor Wants To Know | Radio Boston

Happiness 2.0 – New Efforts to Nurture Well-Being | Knowledge@Wharton Today