Communications Manager @ Happier Lives Institute
Working (6-15 years of experience)
749Witney, UKJoined Nov 2017



I am the Communications Manager at the Happier Lives Institute, helping to build a community of researchers, influencers, and decision-makers who use subjective well-being measures to identify the best ways to improve the lives of others.

Before that, I was part of the Events Team at the Centre for Effective Altruism, helping to produce EA Global and EAGx conferences.

I practice secular Buddhism and try to meditate for two hours each day. Buddhist philosophy drives my commitment to effective altruism and doing the best I can to reduce the suffering of others.


EA Charity recommendations 2022
happier lives institute: the story behind our 2022 charity recommendation


We plan to evaluate Usona Institute next year. We still need to raise $300k to cover our 2023 budget if you prefer to fund further research over direct interventions.

We already have a pipeline of promising charities and interventions to analyse next year:

Charities we want to evaluate: CorStone (resilience training), Friendship Bench (psychotherapy), Lead Exposure Elimination Project (lead paint regulation), and Usona Institute (psychedelics research).

Interventions we want to evaluate: air pollution, child development, digital mental health, and surgery for cataracts and fistula repair.

On (2):  Here's the section on social desirability bias from HLI's cost-effectiveness analysis.

Haushofer et al., (2020), a trial of both psychotherapy and cash transfers in a LMIC, perform a test ‘experimenter demand effect’, where they explicitly state to the participants whether they expect the research to have a positive or negative effect on the outcome in question. We take it this would generate the maximum effect, as participants would know (rather than have to guess) what the experimenter would like to hear. Haushofer et al., (2020), found no impact of explicitly stating that they expected the intervention to increase (or decrease) self-reports of depression. The results were non-significant and close to zero (n = 1,545). We take this research to suggest social desirability bias is not a major issue with psychotherapy. Moreover, it’s unclear why, if there were a social desirability bias, it would be proportionally more acute for psychotherapy than other interventions. Further tests of experimenter demand effects would be welcome. 

Other less relevant evidence of experimenter demand effects finds that it results in effects that are small or close to zero. Bandiera et al., (n =5966; 2020) studied a trial that attempted to improve the human capital of women in Uganda. They found that experimenter demand effects were close to zero. In an online experiment Mummolo & Peterson, (2019) found that “Even financial incentives to respond in line with researcher expectations fail to consistently induce demand effects.” Finally, in de Quidt et al., (2018) while they find experimenter demand effects they conclude by saying “Across eleven canonical experimental tasks we … find modest responses to demand manipulations that explicitly signal the researcher’s hypothesis… We argue that these treatments reasonably bound the magnitude of demand in typical experiments, so our … findings give cause for optimism.”

Thanks very much for flagging the issues with the spreadsheet links. I believe I've fixed them all now but do let me know if you encounter any further issues.

Hi Vasco. This is a great question and one that I find personally intriguing (although I am not an expert in this area).

I'm curious about the possibility of identifying biometric indicators that correlate with subjective wellbeing scores in order to make interspecies comparisons of wellbeing. For example, Blanchfower and Bryson (2021) investigated the link between pulse and wellbeing. 

At the Wellbeing Research & Policy Conference, Daniel Kahneman noted the increasing importance of 'wearables' for tracking health and wellbeing data. I think this technology could be applied to non-human animals too. I asked the team at Wild Animal Initiative about this. They're in the process of hiring a physiology research specialist, but in the meantime they said:

On the probably more feasible end of things, we would like to be able to measure levels of cortisol and similar hormones associated with physiological stress. On the more difficult end, we would like to be able to measure the average length of telomeres in white blood cells. Currently, that is usually done by performing qPCR on a blood sample with specific primers to distinguish different numbers of repeated sequence motifs at the ends of chromosomes. However, maybe there could one day be a way to simplify that process, considering that we are only interested in the physical length of the telomeres.

For the most recent thinking about interspecies comparisons of welfare, I recommend watching the recordings from the recent conference sponsored by Rethink Priorities and reading Jason Schukraft's sequence of posts on moral weights.

I think there might be a confusion here between quality of life and satisfaction with life. 

As you say, the best possible life in 2022 contains many pleasant experiences and time-saving innovations that were unavailable to previous generations. However, it seems to me that modern lives are subject to more unmet desires and expectations are higher than in the past. As such, even though the lives of the current generation are materially better, this doesn't mean that people are more satisfied than their grandparents. 

John Clifton, CEO of Gallup, wrote in The Economist recently:

Fifteen years ago, before the widespread use of social media, 3.4% of people rated their lives a 10 (the best possible life) and only 1.6% rated their lives a zero (the worst possible life). Now the share of people with the best feasible lives has more than doubled (to 7.4%), and the share of people with the worst possible lives has more than quadrupled (to 7.6%).

If you group the world into wellbeing quintiles, this inequality is even more evident. In 2006, the top quintile for life ratings averaged 8.3; the lowest quintile averaged 2.5. Now, look at 2021. The top quintile averaged 8.9, and the lowest quintile averaged 1.2. The gap in those life ratings is now 7.7 points—the highest in Gallup’s history of tracking.

This wellbeing inequality is as serious as income inequality, in my view. It reflects a growing divide in emotions rather than possessions. And this type of inequality is plainly evident when you ask people to rate how their lives are going. Life could hardly be better for one fifth of the world, and for another fifth it could hardly be worse. It may be that the people at the top appreciate what they have more than ever before. For the most unhappy, they are more aware of what they lack than ever before.

I am keen to read critiques of Teo's claims but I downvoted this comment  for a couple of reasons:

1) Aggressive language - I felt that Teo's comment was written in good faith and I was surprised that you dismissed it in such strong words: "extremely misleading", "not remotely fair or accurate",  "an incendiary charge".

2) Appeals to authority - It doesn't matter to me that "pretty much every expert in moral philosophy" disagrees. I want to know why they disagree and be referred to relevant authors or papers that make these arguments.

I'm really delighted to see this project come to fruition. Here are the three best resources on mental health philanthropy that I've come across so far:

World Mental Health Report: A briefing for philanthropic funders (Prospira Global)

Funding the future of mental health: The potential of next generation philanthropists to catalyse action (United for Global Mental Health)

Focus on mental health philanthropy (Alliance)

[Linkpost] This is what Richard Horton (Editor-in-Chief at The Lancet) had to say about the report:

There are few truly watershed moments in medicine and global health. But the publication this month of WHO's World Mental Health Report is one such milestone. It is the agency's first major global foray into mental health for over two decades. Led by Dévora Kestel, who directs the Department of Mental Health and Substance Use in Geneva, WHO aims, in her words, for nothing less than “a transformation” in mental health. 20 years ago, mental health was completely ignored by development experts. There was no mention of mental health in the MDGs. But WHO's 2001 World Health Report on mental health, together with the launch of the Movement for Global Mental Health in 2007 (after publication of The Lancet's first global mental health series), created a foundation for more informed advocacy. Today, mental health is a core component of programmes to address the growing burden of non-communicable diseases. Improving mental health is a monitored objective of the SDGs. WHO's latest report seeks to sum up the state of mental health worldwide, to make the case for deeper change, and to encourage policy makers to reinvigorate mental health systems.

The most important part of the report is not the summary of research evidence. It is the glimpses of progress being made in countries. WHO accepts that no country can meet every aspiration to create a perfect mental health system. But every country can do something to make meaningful progress. In Chile in 2005, the government launched a universal health coverage package that included services for depression, bipolar disorder, alcohol and drug dependence, schizophrenia, and dementia. Mental health has been fully integrated into all levels of general health care. In Pakistan, the Pursukoon Zindagi (Peaceful Life) programme has improved access to mental health services for the poorest communities. Lay counsellors offer community based psychological treatments and referrals. By 2019, over 100 000 people had been screened for anxiety and depression. In Sri Lanka, the 1980 Control of Pesticides Act was a response to the finding that pesticide poisoning accounted for more than two-thirds of all suicides. By 2016, the annual suicide rate had fallen by more than 70%, with thousands of lives saved every year. These stories of success are truly inspirational.

But there is a huge gap in WHO's report. And it is a gap that potentially represents a fatal flaw in the agency's thinking. In one word, it is accountability. First, trying to provoke change by sharing examples of successful country mental health programmes is good. But it will amount to little, and certainly will not produce “transformation”, without a robust and independent mechanism to monitor and review progress in building mental health systems in countries. There is nothing in WHO's report about implementing a means for independent accountability of country governments. Second, there is an accountability gap concerning the structural determinants of mental health. WHO provides a compelling review of the importance of poverty, financial insecurity, income inequality, and social exclusion in shaping mental health. The value of education, safe and secure housing, measures to protect against discrimination, gender equality, and mental health care in prisons are all underlined. The effects of economic crises, public health and humanitarian emergencies (including COVID-19), migration and forced displacement, and the climate crisis are all acknowledged. But nowhere does WHO remind specific countries of their responsibilities to safeguard mental health by addressing these structural determinants. Hong Kong is praised for using sports to promote life skills for young people. But what of the effects of the government's brutal erasure of political freedoms across all sectors of society? Turkey is commended for scaling up care to Syrian refugees. But nowhere is the government held accountable for the atmosphere of fear created by the arbitrary arrest of opposition politicians and journalists, or for its homophobic rhetoric, or for its crackdown on civil society organisations. And Lebanon is cited for its guided self-help programme for depression. But WHO fails to point to the corruption of the country's political process, which is edging Lebanon towards becoming a failed state. WHO's World Mental Health Report deserves wide reading and recognition. But until the agency takes independent accountability of those with the power to influence mental health seriously, the promised transformation will die on an altar of empty eloquence.

Thanks Abby! I haven't had a chance to go through it in detail yet but I'll aim to share some reflections sometime next week.

I don’t recall seeing the ~70-80% number mentioned before in previous posts but I may have missed it.

I’m curious to know what the numbers are for the other cause areas and to see the reasoning for each laid out transparently in a separate post.

I think that CEA’s cause prioritisation is the closest thing the community has to an EA ‘parliament’ and for that process to have legitimacy it should be presented openly and be subject to critique.

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