Stressed out? Unhealthy? Can your city government improve your quality of life?

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Santa Monica beach photo by Boqiang LiaoFlickr/cc.

Skeptics around the world shook their heads this week at news that the city of Santa Monica is about to get underway with a planned $1 million study of well-being. The city beat out 300 others last year in the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge to create a “well-being project.” What does that mean?

Julie Rusk, the project’s assistant director, says just as Santa Monica has been at the forefront of the sustainability movement over the last several decades, it hopes to lead the charge in understanding why a citizen’s well-being is important too. Studying the mental, physical and emotional health of citizens, and examining resources like mass transit, parks and access to healthcare, is a science known as “happiness economics.” It’s part of a growing movement around the world to measure quality of life, as opposed to sheer economics, when looking at a town or city’s status.

“Now people understand what it means to be a sustainable city,” Rusk said. “We think that wellbeing has a similar value proposition. What it means to create and be part of healthy communities.” What kind of public spaces and mass transit are available? How much sleep do people get?

This week, a Gallup study showed the US ranks 12th in the world in a global “subjective well-being” poll. Respondents were asked to talk about factors like whether they liked where they live, how supportive a community they’re surrounded by, whether it’s possible to achieve their goals. Panama clocked in at number one.

By asking its citizens their challenges in life, Rusk said, a city can work to improve them. We talked more about this with Warren Olney on Which Way, LA? Listen here.