Money doesn’t buy happiness

For at least a century, we have measured success using strictly economic terms. We look at GDP, jobs, income, employment, profits, and stock prices to determine if our nation had a good or a bad year.

Yet in an advanced economy that on average easily provides enough for everyone, these metrics have little relevance for how people’s lives really are. Many have more than what is needed to be happy, while others can’t make ends meet. And often, it isn’t even money that decides if we feel good or bad.

Our project aims at changing this notion by introducing a simple question back into the conversation: HOW ARE WE DOING?

Contrary to many other well-being metrics that have been tried, we are not using a top-down or outside-in perspective, but base almost everything on people’s perceptions about their own lives. By asking real people, getting their honest views about their lives, we aim at providing input to politics, advocacy groups, and NGOs – and to everyone interested in making life better for people in today’s difficult times.

We are currently preparing a first trial in a U.S. state to be rolled out in late 2021 and are in the process of finding a European country for a pilot.

About our approach

Why Do we need new metrics ?

Looking beyond economic statistics becomes essential in turbulent times like today where growth is no longer the norm. We need to understand how the people in our country truly are, so we can improve their well-being even in the absence of growth.

What does matter to People ?

The key elements of a good life are rarely economic, once key needs are met. Feeling good about key qualitative aspects in our lives, such as purpose and meaning, our health, or our relationships, is much more relevant

How to use theSE metrics ?

The “How are We?” project plans to establish a widely accepted standard for obtaining relevant data on how people feel, using a non-partisan and participative approach. A first pilot is planned for 2021 in one U.S. state.

KEy project STeps

Concept (DONE)

Over the past years, a lot of work went into the analysis of past well-being metrics efforts, and the concept of developing our own approach. Our documentation is open-source and available for download here.


We are currently in the midst of a methodology-definition phase, where we engage with people, advocacy groups and policymakers about our approach. We are currently testing our preliminary questionnaire.

PILOT (Q4/2021)

We plan on running a state-wide pilot in a medium-sized U.S. state, with approximately 50-100,000 interviews providing enough detail to inform the dialogue between people down to the county level and below.


In what way is "HOW ARE WE" different from other initiatives measuring well-being?

We have conducted a deep research into other well-being metrics, produced by governments or private organizations. The key challenges we found are twofold. First, most approaches use readily available data that says something “about people” from an observant point of view. In contrast, our approach is mostly relying on asking “how are you?”, taking an inside-out perspective. This even begins with the design phase (Phase 0), where we conduct numerous interviews exploring the important factors of well-being for real people from all walks of life That way, participation  by real people becomes part of the project, not just an input. Second, many of the well-being metrics take a lens of “how things should be” that doesn’t match the life reality of many. This makes it hard to maintain continuity if there is a change of governing party that has a different world-view, and also reduces the widespread acceptance among most participants.

What is the motivation behind your initiative?

Economic growth has already been challenged twice in the 21st century (in 2008/09 and 2020/21), and our research suggests that crisis situations will become even more frequent in the future. If we want to make sure to still have good lives, we urgently need different ways of talking about HOW WE ARE.

Do you have any political affiliation?

Our project is non-political, trying to look at people and their lives the way they are, not how we want to see them.

Who funds your work?

Our work is funded by donations from individuals and from institutional grants. None of our funders have any say on the direction or content of our work, and we do not accept grants that include such instructions. In other words: we welcome all support provided based on what we are doing, but we don’t do paid work.

How can I help?

There are many ways to help our project. By providing feedback to our approach, both overall, but also specifically on our questionnaire. Please answer our draft questionnaire and provide us feedback about it. All data is treated confidentially. You may also help in preparing the rollout as a volunteer or by donating to our effort.

Our Team

HOW ARE WE is a joint initiative of the Institute for the Study of Energy and Our Future (ISEOF) and the Institute for Integrated Economic Research (IIER). We are currently building a much larger coalition of partners to support this effort.

Danadra Jean-Noel

Program Director

Danadra is the Program Director for the How Are We pilot phase, responsible for a successful launch in Colorado. She holds a B.A. degree in Sociology from Georgia State University and an M.P.A in International Development and Economics from Clark Atlanta University.

Prior to joining our team, Danadra was a Senior Supervisor of National IT Operations at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. She led key programs at the Kansas Fed and teams throughout the Federal Reserve System. She also worked in multiple roles internationally in Haiti and Tanzania for various non-profit and civic organizations.

Nate Hagens, PhD

Nate Hagens, PhD


Nate Hagens holds a PhD in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont and a Masters Degree in Finance with Honors from the University of Chicago. Previously he was President of Sanctuary Asset Management and a Vice President at the investment firms Salomon Brothers and Lehman Brothers. He served on the Board of Post Carbon Institute (PCI) and the Institute for the Study of Energy and Our Future (ISEOF), parent of The Oil Drum, one of the most popular websites for analysis and discussion of global energy issues, currently engaged with energy, systems literacy and education.

Hannes Kunz, PhD

Hannes Kunz, PhD


Hannes Kunz holds Masters degrees in Law and Economics from the University of Zurich, and a PhD in Economics from St. Gallen University in Switzerland. Before founding IIER, he worked as a senior executive in a number of industries and as a partner in international management consulting companies with assignments in Europe, the Americas and in Asia. His research focus lies on finance, debt and on energy delivery systems.

Hannes has served on the board of various non-profit organizations, and is also a board member of the Institute for the Study of Energy and Our Future (ISEOF).

Makayla Moses

Makayla Moses


Makayla Moses is working as a part-time researcher with our project.  She is an Honors student at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, studying Anthropology and Sociology.  Following her graduation in May of 2021 she hopes to continue her education, and pursue a career involving advocacy and social justice.


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