Understanding Well-being Data

chapter 8 Talking different languages of value

Context: The Happy Museum and Data

The aim is to arm museums with compelling statistics to show how a healthy culture must be at the heart of a healthy society.

(Tony Butler, Director Happy Museum Project and Director Museum of East Anglian Life in Fujiwara 2013, 5)

The relationship between culture and well-being has been operationalised[1] by a number of different organisations in the cultural sector. This is particularly true in the UK. Chapters 6 and 7 have covered a number of processes and projects that want to naturalise, even celebrate, this relationship. One obvious example, by virtue of its name, is The Happy Museum [2]. Established in 2011, The Happy Museum focusses on more than happiness as a hedonic[3] idea; also embracing other, broader aims of the well-being agenda we covered back in Chap. 2: possibilities for sustainability, community and a sense of purpose. The Happy Museum is an advocacy organisation that has slowly grown and expanded on its activities, for example offering frameworks and training for those in the sector to understand the opportunities for the role of museums in well-being [4]. One of its aims was to contribute to the evidence base on the value of museums. The Happy Museum’s Director,

quoted above, invoked the values of culture and its relationship to a healthy society, whilst embracing the idea that this is best expressed with compelling statistics. This statement is testament to the will to progress towards bridging the gap between the languages of valuation and culture’s values.

‘Museums and Happiness: The Value of Participating in Museums and the Arts’ was commissioned by The Happy Museum Project and funded by ACE. The equation I mentioned earlier originated from this report. It is important to say that the equation wasn’t left floating alone to explain the workings, but the report contains details on why things were done and how. We will go through some of these explanations in the subsequent sections, elaborating for context and hopefully clarity. The key stated goal of the research was to ‘look at the impacts of the arts on people’s subjective wellbeing and health and attach values to these impacts’ [5]. The project took a ‘well-being valuation approach’, which we’ve touched on in Chaps. 2 and 7, and which I will walk you through. As I have said before, this is not a Quants textbook, and you will not read this chapter, suddenly conversant in statistics, but it should hopefully give you a better idea of what is going on.


  1. In quantitative research, operationalisation refers to the process through which abstract concepts, such as happiness, are translated into measurable variables. This is different from the way we use the word in day-to-day discussion. When we operationalise something, we more generally and simply put it to use. See Box 7.1 in Chap. 7 for more detail.[]
  2. n.d-b[]
  3. Chapters 2 and 4 are good to refer to if you need a reminder on what hedonic means.[]
  4. The Happy Museum n.d-a[]
  5. Fujiwara 2013, 7[]