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New global survey looks at health, well-being

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What’s your blood pressure?

For most people, this is an easy question, a fundamental measurement taken at every doctor’s visit. Many supermarkets have free stations to check it. Even smart watches can gather this metric anywhere, anytime.

Now answer this: What’s your purpose in life?

That data, according to a group of researchers at Harvard University and Baylor University, might be just as important as blood pressure in gauging what the scholars view as human well-being. That is to say, the sum total of your physical and mental health, along with your happiness and life satisfaction, sense of meaning and purpose, character and virtue, and close social relationships. This view of overall health is the focus of their new $43.4 million Global Flourishing Study to be launched this month — the largest, most culturally and geographically diverse of its kind. The team will follow roughly 240,000 participants from 22 countries over five years to gather data on which individuals or nations are flourishing and why, or why not.

“Health is more than the absence of disease,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Well-being is harder — but not impossible — to measure. While previous studies have tried, the Global Flourishing Study, whose partners include the survey giant Gallup and the Center for Open Science, is the first to take a global, longitudinal approach in an attempt to find causal links between well-being and specific character traits — like extroversion or optimism — practices, communities, relationships, or religions. If successful, the survey could later be administered as a kind of diagnostic test to prescribe interventions, similar to exercise and heart-healthy diets for cardiovascular disease.