You are here


Establishment of Seoul Happiness Indicators and Institutionalization Plan

Miree Byun·Bogyeong Min·Minjin Park



Seoul Happiness Indicators were created to measure the happiness of Seoul’s citizens. The city’s vision for the future is “Seoul, a Happy City.” These happiness indicators can be used in policies to promote happiness of Seoul’s citizens.


Paradigm shift to a happy city rather than quantitative growth focused on gross domestic product

Everyone wants to live a happy life. Happiness generally refers to a high quality of life. Korean society has been enjoying prosperity thanks to stunning economic growth over the past half century. However, do we feel happier now than we were in the past due to such growth and development? Along with growth and development, there have also emerged problems such as inequality, polarization, amplification of various conflicts, and lack of trust. Today, the suicide rate is the highest in the Korean society while the birth rate is the lowest in the world. People are rethinking the meaning of economic growth. There is an increasing awareness that efforts at various levels are needed to improve quality of life and quality of society. In particular, as Korean society has entered a low-growth period, we need to figure out how to solve social problems. In the process of seeking survival solutions in this low-growth period, there has been developed a widely shared awareness of the need for policy intervention to improve the quality of life of citizens in the public domain.


Discussion about happiness and how to measure peoples’ happiness

Since the United Nation (UN)’s World Happiness Report in 2012, the perception of social development and public policy aimed to promote civic happiness rather than economic growth has spread around the globe. As a result, happiness indicators have been built to measure happiness. There has been much movement to utilize them. Statistics Korea has developed a framework and index regarding quality of life. In 2014, it launched a website for service focusing on Korean Quality of Life index. The Korean Quality of Life measurement system was announced in 2017, which consists of 80 indicators in 12 areas. According to Statistics Korea, the Korean Quality of Life index utilizes a composite index to summarize results of the full Quality of Life report.

Construction of indicators to measure happiness is being actively discussed worldwide. The UN’s Happiness Report and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Better Life Index can be used to measure happiness around the world and make international comparisons. Since Bhutan announced in 1974 that a country could be managed based on gross national happiness (GNH) instead of gross domestic product (GDP), many countries have tried to promote people’s happiness. In November 2010, British Prime Minister Cameron said that general Wellbeing (GWB) is important because GDP is an incomplete method of measuring national growth. GWB reevaluates what is prioritized in British life through the happiness index. Since then, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has begun to develop a new measurement for national welfare and established ‘Measuring National Wellbeing Program’.

As people in the same country have different happiness levels according to their areas of residence, discussions are actively ongoing about happiness at regional and local levels as well as national level. A regional happiness index is similar to a national happiness index. However, it is characterized by an active reflection of characteristics of the area where people live. The OECD established indicators to measure levels of regional well-being in 2014. It publishes results periodically so that regional comparisons within the same country as well as international comparisons can be made. The United Kingdom established Local Wellbeing Indicators in 2017 to measure local well-being and compare well-being levels in local authorities. In Australia, community well-being is measured to reflect not only the well-being of individuals in a community but also relationships and interactions in that community. Therefore, Seoul Happiness Indicators should not only have general indicators, which can be compared with other megacities in the world, but also have specific indicators including regional characteristics and activities.


Seoul Happiness Indicators reconstructed through citizen participation based on evidence

We created a Seoul Happiness Indicators system in 2014. We updated these indicators using empirical analysis and citizen participation. We first examined 24 indicators in 11 areas from the study “The Quality of Life in Megacities and Seoul-Specific Happiness Indicators” in 2014. We also examined factors affecting people’s happiness in Seoul, using data from 2016 Seoul Survey. As a result, we determined social factors influencing happiness and added several indicators for social network and community. Based on results of citizen surveys, it was necessary to replace or remove several indicators such as unemployment rate, participation in art activities, turnout rate, and park.


Policy and institutional basis for utilizing Seoul Happiness Indicators

If Seoul Metropolitan Government hopes society and people to be happier, it needs to adopt “A Happy City” as the city’s vision for the future and build a systematic framework to realize and reflect this vision in the city’s policies. Seoul Happiness Indicators can be better utilized with institutional support and policy efforts. To that end, we need to measure citizens’ happiness with these indicators and reflect results in policies aimed to enhance happiness. This cannot be accomplished by one individual department alone, but by a collaborative governance system involving the local government, the central government, National Statistical Office, non-governmental/non-profit organizations, research institutions, and citizens. In order to build an institution for utilizing these happiness indicators, the city should establish a legal framework for a happiness ordinance. It also needs to specify details such as a dedicated organization and system operation methods. 



01 Why Happiness?

1_Beyond GDP, the Need for a Paradigm Shift to a Happy City

2_Research Contents and Methods


02 Discussions on Happiness and Happiness Indicators

1_Domestic Happiness Indicators

2_Overseas Happiness Indicators



03 Composition and Measurement of Seoul Happiness Indicators

1_Basic Ideas on Seoul Happiness Indicators

2_Reorganization of Seoul Happiness Indicators

3_Establishment of Seoul Happiness Indicators


04 Utilization of Seoul Happiness Indicators

1_Policy Cases of Happiness Indicators in Other Countries

2_Plans to Utilize Seoul Happiness Indicators