How economists measure happiness

Slate has a short article on the intriguing question of how economists measure happiness.

This has become a key issue this year, as the two leading political parties in the UK, and the kingdom of Bhutan, have cited ‘happiness’ as a national goal.

Happiness, otherwise known as ‘subjective well-being’ (sounds more scientific doesn’t it?), is actually quite a tricky thing to measure.

Despite it being fairly prominent as a human desire throughout history, only recently has it been studied in earnest by psychologists.

This has been linked to the ‘positive psychology‘ movement that has begun to specifically focus on human strengths and virtues, after hundreds of years of psychology being dominated by the study of mental distress or reasoning abilities.

In fact, the idea that psychologists were studying happiness caused enough of a stir to make the front cover of Time magazine in 2004. The pdf of the article is available online if you want to have a look.

The Slate article briefly describes the current approaches to measuring happiness: essentially, either by judging overall ‘life satisfaction’ or by recording day-by-day emotions and working out an average.

If you want a bit more on the emerging science of happiness, psychologist Daniel Gilbert wrote a good summary for Edge which is still available online.

Link to Slate article ‘The Not-So-Dismal Science’ (with mp3 version).
pdf of Time article ‘The New Science of Happiness’.
Link to Edge discussion with Daniel Gilbert.

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