The Global Flourishing Study
A new era for the study of wellbeing
Posted May 1, 2020
The Global Flourishing Study is a longitudinal research study being carried out in collaboration between scholars at the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard and Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, and in partnership with Gallup and the Center for Open Science.
The study will involve data collection for approximately 240,000 participants, from 22 geographically and culturally diverse countries, with nationally representative samples within each country, and with annual data collection on the same panel of individuals, with a rich set of survey items, for five waves of data.
The panel will include individuals from 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. These countries were selected in consultation with Gallup to maximize coverage of the world’s population, to ensure geographic, cultural, and religious diversity, and in consideration of existing data collection infrastructure and feasibility. The survey includes a rich set of questions on wellbeing along with demographic, social, economic, political, religious, personality, childhood, community, health, and character-based questions.
This $43.4 million initiative is being supported by a consortium of funders including the John Templeton Foundation, the Templeton Religion Trust, the Templeton World Charity Foundation, the Fetzer Institute, the Paul Foster Family Foundation, the Wellbeing for Planet Earth Foundation, the Well Being Trust, and the David & Carol Myers Foundation. The study has the potential to transform and dramatically expand our understanding of human flourishing.
The Contribution of the Study
Prior research on flourishing has been severely limited by several factors. Much prior research on the factors that shape flourishing has relied upon cross-sectional samples, with all of the data collected at the same time. Reliance on cross-sectional data makes it difficult to provide evidence concerning causation. Much of the research on wellbeing has also been restricted to samples in the United States and Europe.
The Global Flourishing Study will seek to address the present gaps in our research knowledge by using longitudinal data and more methodologically rigorous approaches and outcome-wide designs to examine how changes in various social, demographic, economic, political, psychological, religious, and character-related variables affect subsequent wellbeing and by employing a global probability-based panel study that includes people of diverse geographical, cultural, and religious backgrounds.
The GFS will expand knowledge on the extent to which, and in what ways, many of the world’s largest nations are, or are not, flourishing, and why. Its longitudinal design will supply evidence concerning the causes of flourishing, while the large panel size and global scope, and nationally representative sampling will give insights from around the world. The study thus has the capacity to fundamentally advance our understanding of the societal determinants of human flourishing and to deeply enrich our knowledge concerning how this might vary by cultural context, and what might be universal.
The Survey Items
The design of the GFS has benefited from extensive feedback from a globally diverse group of scholars. Preparation for the study began in 2018 with a core set of demographic, religious, and wellbeing questions. Scholars from diverse disciplines were then asked to help select the best items for numerous important constructs related to the potential constituents and causes of wellbeing.
The entire set of questions was sent out to scholars around the world for feedback and refinement, and to help address potential translational and cross-cultural issues. Open feedback was then solicited over a period of several months, with over 130 scholars and respondents contributing comments and suggestions.
Based on this feedback, a revised survey was developed and then further refined in collaboration with Gallup following translational, cognitive testing, and piloting work. A full report on the survey development process from Gallup is available and the final set of questions that will be used in the Global Flourishing Study can be found in Appendix 2 of that report (p. 43-52). Some of the questions will be asked only at empanelment, and others will be asked every year.
The study will include our own flourishing index assessment with 12 questions across 6 domains of human flourishing including happiness and life satisfaction, physical and mental health, meaning and purpose, character and virtue, close social relationships, and financial and material stability. But the wellbeing questions are not restricted to these twelve. Numerous other wellbeing items are also included, along with questions on demographic and economic characteristics, religion and spirituality, health, behaviors, character, childhood experience and upbringing, personality, community and social support, and political and national context. The first wave of data is anticipated to be available fall 2023.
Open Data Access
The Global Flourishing Study will be an open-access data resource that will be available to researchers, journalists, policymakers, and educators around the world. The data itself will be hosted by the Center for Open Science.
Starting with the second wave of data collection, access to the data will be available to anyone without restriction one year following the data collection for each wave. Anyone can also access the data immediately upon release for specific analysis purposes by submitting a pre-registration of the proposed research to the Center for Open Science. Such pre-registration helps improve the credibility of analyses and helps avoid arbitrary data-fishing, especially in the early stages of the use of the data. The data will, however, ultimately be made fully open-access, without any restrictions on use, one year following each wave of subsequent data collection. We hope that by making the Global Flourishing Study data an open-access resource we will empower research on wellbeing all over the globe.
The Future of Flourishing
The Global Flourishing Study has the potential to powerfully advance our understanding of the distribution and determinants of flourishing. The data collection by Gallup will include countries in all six inhabited continents, representing nearly half of the world’s population, and will include five years of annual data collection. Its potential is extraordinary… but the study need not even be restricted to its present state. There is potential to add more countries and more waves of data. The project's directors Byron Johnson at Baylor and Tyler J. VanderWeele at Harvard would be happy to speak to anyone who might be interested in funding additional countries, or additional waves.
More information and commentary on the Global Flourishing Study can be found in our joint press release, in our joint press conference, and in the Questionnaire Development Report from Gallup. We are very grateful to all of the scholars, participants, and funders who have contributed so much to make this possible and we very much hope that the study will profoundly advance our understanding of how individuals and societies can flourish and that it will thereby contribute to people’s lives and advance the promotion of human flourishing.
Tyler J. VanderWeele, Director
Human Flourishing Program
Crabtree, S., English, C., Johnson, B.R., Ritter, Z., and VanderWeele, T.J. (2021). Global Flourishing Study: Questionnaire Development Report. Washington DC: Gallup Inc.
VanderWeele, T. J. (2017). On the promotion of human flourishing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 114, 8148–8156