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October 04, 2005

Happiness Economics Being Taken Seriously?

According to this lengthy New York Times article, the field of happiness economics--which we've followed closely over the last year--is gaining momentum.

Countries ranging from Bhutan (which has declared that its national priority is gross national happiness, not GDP) to Britain (which released a first effort at an "index of well-being" in March) are experimenting with the concept that contentment should be measured as closely as spending. Aside from the Bhutan example, it's hard to tell how influential these efforts have been at a policy level, but the fact they're being undertaken is encouraging. (As the article underscores, though, much work still remains to be done to develop reliable and consistent indicators.)

And research continues to point out the discrepancy between subjective and economic well-being, especially as countries become wealthier. On the chart below, the US and Canada aren't doing too badly on the happiness scale, but neither are countries that have a far smaller GNP per capita.


Posted by Elisa Murray | Permalink


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I've got some posts on this too, going back a ways on my blog. It is a key missing piece in conservation and environment discussions ... but at the same time I don't think general society will buy the argument from environmentalists.

If "happiness scientists" make the pitch that we should understand (and perhaps get off) the “hedonic treadmill” ... maybe it WILL make some headway.

... I guess I should just be happy with that ;-)

Posted by: odograph | Oct 5, 2005 7:43:36 AM

odo. beat me to it. The countries that have higher happiness indices also have a lower ecological footprint - e.g. there is no correlation between consumption and happiness; Mark Hertsgaard found this again and again in his book 'Earth Odyssey'. I guess it's something we have to learn again and again as the competing messages have to make it through the miasma of advertising that accosts us constantly.

Posted by: Dan Staley | Oct 5, 2005 8:14:09 AM

How exactly do countries like Columbia and Nigeria with active insurrection movements score so high on the 'happy' scale? I am guessing from these artifacts that there's some bias being introduced by the survey method.

Posted by: Robert McLeod | Oct 5, 2005 9:52:55 AM

I think the surveys are pre-insurrection.

Though if that is true, we might ask why happy people have insurrections ...

Posted by: odograph | Oct 5, 2005 10:44:13 AM

Well, there is certainly a lot of work to be done on improving the measurements and making comparisons meaningful. But the lack of correlation between rising GDP and satisfaction is pretty clear. See the NY Times editorial today on "Net National Happiness"). http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/06/opinion/06thu4.html

"A clearer understanding of what makes humans happy - not merely more eager consumers or more productive workers - might help begin to reshape those assumptions in a way that has a measurable and meliorating outcome on the lives we lead and the world we live in."

Posted by: Elisa Murray | Oct 6, 2005 12:10:11 PM