The Pursuit of Happiness

The Pursuit of Happiness: An Economy of Well-Being

Carol Graham
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 164
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  • Book Info
    The Pursuit of Happiness
    Book Description:

    Economists are increasingly using happiness surveys to study a host of questions, ranging from the happiness effects of health and marriage to the unhappiness effects of unemployment, divorce, and even commuting time. Carol Graham was a pioneer in the economic study of happiness, and she has been involved from the beginning in discussions about applying this approach to economic policymaking.

    In this straightforward and accessible book, Graham explores what we know about the determinants of happiness across and within countries of different development levels, including some counterintuitive and surprising relationships. She then raises the challenges posed by the use of these measures as comparative indicators. Foremost among these are the extent to which people can adapt to adversity and still report to be happy (the "happy peasant and frustrated achiever" problem) and the need for clarity on the definition of happiness.

    Centuries ago, the study of happiness was of great interest to economists and philosophers such as Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham. As the economics profession turned more toward quantitative methods, however, the approach fell out of fashion. Over a century later, economists are circling back, and research on happiness has entered the mainstream. There are a number of efforts underway to develop national level well-being measures. The objective is to develop metrics that can be compared within and across countries and ultimately used as complements to traditional income and GDP data.

    A definition of well-being that is broader than income could lead to improved understanding of poverty and the development process. But what are the components of such a metric, and should greater happiness become a specific policy goal? Should we be using happiness measures as a guide to development policies? These are the critical issues addressed in this book.

    Contents 1. Happiness: A New Science? 2. What Do We Mean by "Happiness," and Why Does it Matter? 3. Happiness around the World: What We Know Now 4. Adaptation and Other Puzzles 5. Happiness Rather than GDP?

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-2128-4
    Subjects: Business, Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. 1-26)

    FOR THE PAST TEN YEARS, I have been studying happiness around the world, in countries as different as Afghanistan, Chile, and the United States. It has been an amazing foray into the complexity of the human psyche on the one hand, and the simplicity of what seems to make us happy on the other. My last book on happiness, published in 2009, ended with a speculative chapter on policy, with the quote above at the top of the chapter.¹ It’s either a sign of my lack of imagination or of the speed with which the current public debates have taken...

    (pp. 27-61)

    AS THE DISCUSSION OF HAPPINESS moves from empirical studies that aim to deepen our understanding of the determinants of human wellbeing to happiness as a metric of economic progress or as a policy objective, it begs the question of what happiness means. That is obviously too large a question to be resolved by any one discussion, scholar, or academic debate. But before happiness becomes a subject of policy, there are many parts of that question that merit further discussion. Foremost among them is what definition of happiness is most relevant and appropriate to apply in making policy—and how that...

    (pp. 62-80)

    I HAVE SPENT MUCH OF the last decade studying happiness around the world, and it has surely been the most interesting enterprise that I have undertaken since I began to do research on economic development as a graduate student many years ago. In chapter 2, I identified a host of unanswered questions raised by that research. Those questions, which hinge on the definition of happiness, have led me into uncharted philosophical waters. In this chapter, I return to firmer empirical ground (at least for me) and review the regularities that I and others have found in the determinants of well-being...

    (pp. 81-105)

    IF THE DETERMINANTS OF WELL-BEING across peoples, countries, and cultures are as similar as the last chapter suggests, then why does Sen’s grumbling rich man report being less happy than the contented peasant? How can we explain this puzzle? What does it imply about the relevance of happiness research to policy?

    There are indeed very stable patterns in the determinants of individual happiness: income, age, health, stable partnerships, employment, and friendships all matter to individual happiness, in essentially the same way. The consistency in these basic determinants in turn allows us to analyze the well-being effects of other things that...

    (pp. 106-126)

    EVEN IF THE SKEPTICS ARE correct and all of the current attention to happiness is just a short-lived fad (which I doubt), the debate still will have made a significant contribution by forcing us to rethink our measures of welfare and our benchmarks of progress. GNP is a complex, composite measure that has served the United States and many other countries well for many years, and it will continue to do so. No serious scholars of the economics of happiness suggest that we should toss out GNP. What the science and the debate surrounding it suggest is that we can...

    (pp. 127-130)
  9. NOTES
    (pp. 131-152)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 153-164)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 165-166)