In 2000, a paper published by American Psychologist proposed that the United States "produce national indicators of happiness."
It would be a kind of companion piece to economic measures like the gross domestic product because well-being correlates so strongly with health, stress, investment, risk-tolerance and warm, supportive relationships.
What a good idea — and how relevant today.
There's even better news: Although economists and politicians gobble like a bunch of turkeys when they're asked to shift the economy, psychologists have been studying the happiness indices for decades. There is startling uniformity in some of their findings.
In 2006, psychologists from Hofstra University and the University of California-Davis set up an experiment for 221 sixth- and seventh-graders.
Working through a public school system in Dix Hills, N.Y., they assigned 11 classes to three groups: a "hassles" group, a ''gratitude" group and a control group.
For two weeks, all three groups were asked to fill out a daily report of the emotions they'd experienced in the past 24 hours and rate them on a scale.
Before filling out the report, the "hassles" children were asked to list five things that had annoyed or bothered them since the day before.
The "gratitude" children were asked to "list up to five things they were grateful for since yesterday."
Surprise: The children who counted their blessings reported deeper gratitude, greater optimism, more life satisfaction and fewer negative experiences over the previous day.
The bigger surprise is that the "gratitude" group was still showing higher rates of positive emotions three weeks after the end of the daily experiments.
Copyright, Herald-Sun in Durham, N.C. Courtesy of The Associated Press.