The story of the Cupcakes Index…

I read an article in The Economist about the World Happiness Report, published by the Earth Institute for the United Nations Conference on Happiness, edited by Jeffrey Sachs, Richard Layard and John Helliwell.
The 100p. report covered methodology for measuring happiness, case studies, as well as a few graphs on how happy countries are, hoping to stimulate governments to consider using happiness as a metric for public policy. 
I was interested in how the report measured something that can seem so subjective and converted it into data. In fact, the scientific term for happiness is “subjective well being.” I considered the graph of the Happy Index because the report says that it was the best judge of a country’s happiness— it asks the question,  ”Overall, how happy are you these days?”
I also was struck by the report’s description of the difficulty of gathering an overall feeling and significant data set and yet struggling against the ephemeral, momentary spikes of happiness or sadness in daily life. 
I decided to use the subjective measure of taste - and tasting sugar specifically - in order to encourage my participants to engage with these ideas at once. Jer Thorp, who teaches Data Representation, encourages us to consider how to represent data (1) in the clearest way and (2) in a way that speaks to the nature of that data set.
I wanted to make the data tangible, palatable, spark interest in the dry report.
So, I set about baking the Happy Index into cupcakes. 96 of them, where each country had its own, unique amount of sugar, starting with Bulgaria, who had the least amount of happiness and the least amount of sugar.
I used colored cupcake wrappers— dark blue for the least happy countries, then, in increasing happiness, brown, yellow, pink and bright red for the most happy.
I then asked the people who ate the cupcakes to plot how sweet they found the cupcake by pinning the wrapper onto a board. They considered their own subjective measure of sweetness— ideally tasting a few cupcakes so that they had some sort of point of reference.
They were able to check how closely their plotting matched the formal graph of the Happy Index (a video feed of the pinboard was projected on the formal graph).
For the show, I baked 5 rounds of the Cupcakes Index! I collected all of the boards, with their pinned wrappers, and have attached an image of all of these boards.
Please feel free to get in touch if you would like to discuss this project.
Email me: