Are you better off than you were four years ago?
Ronald Reagan famously asked Americans this question during the 1980 presidential election campaign. Americans answered with a resounding "no" when they elected him president.
Were people voting based on how they felt about their own lives? If so, how would people in every single country in the world answer this question?
Gallup's new report, What Happiness Today Tells Us About the World Tomorrow, offers leaders some answers and shows them why they need to be listening: Life is getting worse in places such as Russia, India, Colombia and Egypt. People in each of these countries, on average, have been rating their lives worse every year since 2014.
Leaders in each of these countries -- as well as others around the world -- should be concerned. When people see their lives headed in the wrong direction, they want change. Recent research by London School of Economics academic George Ward shows that how people feel about their lives does influence how they vote in elections. In fact, he believes that subjective measures of well-being are better predictors of elections than questions about how people feel about the economy.
Ward's research focused on European democracies, but how people feel about their lives should matter to leaders of all countries. People's ratings of their lives trended downward ahead of unrest in the Arab Uprising countries. The same was true with Ukraine in the two years leading up to the Euromaidan Revolution.
Life ratings were down in the U.K. before Brexit and in the U.S. two years before the 2016 election.
These data and trends are part of a discipline known as behavioral economics. The field's underlying theory is that about 30% of what people do is rational; the other 70% is emotional. This new discipline has led to Nobel Prizes, bestselling books, new agencies within governments and even new majors at universities. What it hasn't led to is new national statistics.
The most famous national statistics -- GDP, household income and unemployment -- focus on the rational side of what people do: what they spend, how much they make and whether they have a job. This report quantifies the other 70% of what makes a great life -- the emotional side. For leaders who are wondering if people in their countries "are better off than they were four years ago," this report has that answer.