"We should seek better and more-direct measurements of economic well-being," Bernanke said Monday in a video-taped 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."
Bernanke acknowledged that many people aren't too happy right now. Unemployment rose in July to 8.3 percent, and economic growth has slowed sharply from the start of the year. He called the recovery "frustratingly slow" when he testified to Congress on July 17.
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 that speech, he said research has found that once basic material needs are met, more wealth doesn't necessarily make people happier.
In his remarks Monday, Bernanke turned to the 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 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?
Bernanke's own definition of happiness might baffle some. He called it a "short-term state of awareness that depends on a person's perceptions of one's immediate reality, as well as on immediate external circumstances and outcomes."
It's not exactly how the classic comic strip Peanuts described it when it said, "Happiness is a warm puppy." But perhaps Bernanke's version can be measured more easily in surveys.