Charles Seaford, head of the Center for Well-being at the New Economics Foundation in London, said psychologists see happiness as "good functioning" or the meeting of psychological needs, an approach that emphasizes relationships, autonomy, competence and purpose. Economists use more abstract terms such as "utility," Seaford said.
There is a movement among economists and other researchers to make the psychological well-being of citizens a major government priority, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Ideally, researchers told the journal Nature, they'd like to boil it all down into a single statistic that will resonate with voters -- a sort of mental health equivalent of gross domestic product or the unemployment rate.
The commentary in Nature, said government officials in Britain, Germany, China, France, Australia, Ecuador, Italy, Spain and the United States were "taking steps to measure quality of life."
Seaford and colleagues have begun gathering data on happiness in Britain. In April, the Office of National Statistics added four new questions to its Integrated Household Survey to assess "how satisfied people are with their lives; how happy they were yesterday; how anxious they were yesterday; and how worthwhile they think the things they do are."