WASHINGTON — Ben Bernanke wants to know whether you are happy.
The Federal Reserve chairman said Monday that gauging happiness can be as important for measuring economic progress as determining whether inflation is low or unemployment high.
Economics isn’t just about money and material benefits, Bernanke said. It is also about understanding and promoting “the enhancement of well-being.”
“We should seek better and more-direct measurements of economic well-being,” Bernanke said Monday in a recorded speech shown to a conference of economists and statisticians in Cambridge, Mass. After all, promoting well-being is “the ultimate objective of our policy decisions.”
Few Americans are likely to say they are happy with the economy right now.
Unemployment rose in July to 8.3 percent, and economic growth has slowed sharply from the start of the year.
Still, Bernanke said aggregate statistics can mask important information about how individual Americans are faring.
His speech Monday was the latest foray into a relatively new specialty in economics known as “happiness studies.”
Bernanke attracted widespread notice when he spoke about the economics of happiness in a May 2010 commencement address at the University of South Carolina.
In his remarks Monday, Bernanke turned to the more practical — and difficult — task of measuring a subjective emotion.
So far, most efforts have involved surveys in which people are asked about whether they are happy and what contributes to their happiness.
Those surveys have found some consistent answers: physical and mental health, the strength of family and community ties, a sense of control over one’s life, and opportunities for leisure activity.
Bernanke on Monday sketched out a few other questions he would like to know: How secure do Americans feel in their jobs?
How confident are Americans in their future job prospects?
How prepared are families for financial shocks?
These indicators “could be useful in measuring economic progress or setbacks as well as in explaining economic decision-making,” Bernanke said.