Measuring Well-Being in Santa Monica

The beachfront town known for its surfers and celebrities is collecting data that dig deeper than traditional measures of economic prosperity, and the results may be surprising.

2 minute read

August 3, 2015, 8:00 AM PDT

By Emily Calhoun

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Jessica Leber writes, "It’s not mysterious what makes people happy." Yet, how to improve a city’s quality of life remains elusive. With a $1 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the city of Santa Monica has embarked on an innovative approach to understanding what makes communities thrive, with the goal of improving well-being for its 89,000 residents.

For two years, the city has been working with the RAND Corporation, the New Economics Foundation, and various experts to collect data on well-being. Countries such as Bhutan and Chile have built models of happiness research using various socio-economic indicators. The project in Santa Monica is unique in that it is focused at an extremely local level and includes surveys of residents and social media data. As stated on the project's website, "It's easy to figure out if there's less crime than there was last month or last year. It's a little harder to know if we're feeling more fulfilled than we were last week."

The Index includes six categories: Outlook, Community, Place, Learning, Health, and Opportunity. "The results were surprising to the city, which always prided itself on its higher voter rates and volunteering rates than other parts of the state and the nation," Leber writes. While Santa Monica residents enjoy higher-than-average levels of outdoor activity and a high sense of pride in their natural environment, when it comes to "community," residents of Santa Monica fare lower than the national average: only 56 percent of residents feel they can "count on their neighbors" compared to 80 percent in a national survey. Furthermore, while 70 percent report being "happy most or all of the time," 28 percent report feeling stressed most or all of the time.

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