Some Research on Happiness & Society
Abstract (Via UC)
While any improvement in wealth and consumption will likely increase happiness, the increased happiness may or may not last long. In this article we offer two recommendations to make the increased happiness sustainable. The first one—to invest resources to promote adaptation resistant rather than adaptation-prone consumption—seeks to make the increased happiness sustainable within a generation. The second recommendation—to invest resources to promote inherently evaluable rather than inherently in evaluable consumption—seeks to make the increased happiness sustainable across generations.
Introduction (Via UC)
Most of us now possess more wealth and enjoy better consumption goods than our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Are we happier? Research suggests that in developed countries wealth has increased multiple times since the Second World War, but reported happiness and life satisfaction have virtually stagnated (Blanchflower and Oswald 2004b; Easterlin 1974, 1995). A question weighs on the minds of researchers, policy makers, and the general public alike: how can happiness increase as wealth accumulates and consumption improves? In recent decades, psychologists, economists, and other behavioral scientists have all tried to address this question.
This article examines how to increase the average happiness level within a generation and across generations. One way is to further increase the wealth of the society (for example, gross domestic product per capita) and thus its corresponding consumption levels. Many economists endorse this approach. Another approach is to optimize the way in which wealth is consumed without increasing the amount of aggregate wealth per se. These two approaches are complementary. In this article, we focus on the latter approach and refer to the scientific study of this approach as “hedonomics,” to distinguish it from economics (Hsee,Hastie, and Chen 2008).
Simoleon’s Favorite Excerpts (Via UC)
Any improvement in a consumption variable, be it an increase in the size of a home or an increase in the speed of a computer, can at least temporarily raise one’s happiness. The problem is that the increased happiness may not last long.
Thus, to make future generations happier, we recommend investing resources in improving type A variables—letting every family enjoy heating in the winter and air conditioning in the summer; developing effective drugs for people with sleeping disorders, depression, or migraine headaches; building better sanitary systems so that fewer people will suffer from insect bites and diseases; providing services and organizing events so that people could more easily socialize with each other; and so on. Compared with previous generations, we already have more comfortable room temperatures, more effective medicines, better sanitary systems, better communication systems, and so on. Yet there is significant room for improvement, especially in developing countries.
Quick Recap (Via UC)
Within the hedonomic approach, we offer two specific recommendations to increase the average level of happiness in a society. The first recommendation is based on the observation that some experiences are prone to hedonic adaptation and other experiences are relatively resistant to hedonic adaptation, which suggests an emphasis on pursuing adaptation-resistant rather than adaptation-prone positive experiences and avoiding adaptation-resistant rather than adaptation-prone negative experiences. The second recommendation rests on the observation that the influence of wealth on happiness can be either relative or absolute, which suggests a focus on producing goods that are inherently easy to evaluate and have an absolute effect on happiness, rather than goods that are inherently difficult to evaluate and have only a relative effect on happiness. These recommendations have different implications. The first is to produce prolonged happiness within a generation; the second is to increase happiness across generations.