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How and why do people’s happiness, health, purpose, faith, virtue, and relationships change over the course of their lives? How do these aspects of what it means to be human vary within cultures and across countries? An ambitious multi-year, worldwide study will track 240,000 adults and teens in 22 countries to give researchers an unprecedented window into human well-being, providing data to answer those questions and many others. The Global Flourishing Study (GFS) will afford social scientists new opportunities to investigate questions about how love, generosity, forgiveness, religion, spirituality, and well-being change and interact across a broad array of human cultures and demographics. 

Co-directed by sociologist Byron Johnson, of Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion, and epidemiologist Tyler VanderWeele, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the study will be carried out in partnership with the global polling firm Gallup and the Center for Open Science. The 5-year, $43.4-million project, which is launching with $11.1 million in funding from the John Templeton Foundation, will support five annual waves of data collection from the same respondents. Gallup will facilitate data collection and management, recruiting participants and following up with them each year, while the Center for Open Science will help make the data freely available to researchers, journalists, policymakers and educators.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Many of the survey’s core questions were drawn from a flourishing index proposed by VanderWeele in 2017, and others were adapted from established multi-dimensional measures for religion and spirituality. To accurately survey people about these domains in a way that is comparable across cultures, the Global Flourishing Study team developed and refined these questions over the course of several years and multiple phases. The survey was refined with input from content experts and recommendations from scholars around the world. A draft survey was made public to gather additional feedback, and Gallup facilitated final survey design refinements, translation and testing for rollout in the 22 survey countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Egypt, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Turkey, South Africa, Spain, Tanzania, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The resulting survey’s questions will address topics including relationships, loneliness, civic engagement, political values, virtue, character, personality, gratitude, forgiveness, religious beliefs and practices, depression, anxiety, trauma, well-being, life satisfaction, meaning, financial stability, and health. Importantly, the same panels of respondents provide data multiple times over the course of the study, providing valuable longitudinal data that will enable causal analysis to investigate determinants of flourishing.

“The longitudinal research design will allow us to substantially advance scientific knowledge on the determinants of human flourishing,” says VanderWeele. “We are so excited to see what we and other researchers around the globe will learn.”

“When we think about changes in things like belief in God, religious identification, loneliness, or well-being, so often we are relying on data from cross-sectional surveys,” says Nicholas Gibson, the John Templeton Foundation’s Director of Human Sciences. “But it’s then hard to tell how much of the population-level changes, which is what we’re actually observing, are due to changes in individual lives. It’s hard to overstate the value of tracking the same respondents over time—not just for efforts to describe how people change, but also for attempts to explain why they change and the consequences of those changes. Given the breadth of variables that will be measured, the coverage of cultures and contexts, and the many potential reuse opportunities, I’m especially excited that the data will be made available as a public good.” 

STILL CURIOUS?

Read the Global Flourishing project overview.

Learn more about project leaders Byron Johnson and Tyler VanderWeele, and partners Gallup and the Center for Open Science.

Learn more about how the GFS questionnaire was developed, and read sample questions.

Watch the Oct. 29, 2021 livestream of the Global Flourishing Study launch event at Baylor.