Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Happiness economics

Darrin McMahon, author of Happiness: A History, has an interesting post up at the "Open University" academic group blog.

Who's tired of GNP? A lot of people, it seems. Open University readers may have heard about the new vogue of happiness economics, a discipline that draws on the insights of psychology to render the traditionally dismal science less dismal. Essentially, the idea is this: Survey data in the United States and elsewhere seems to suggest that people have not gotten much happier over the last several decades, at least as measured by their own periodic responses to questions like, "On the whole, would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not so happy." And this despite massive gains in GNP during the same period. So if greater wealth appears not to translate into greater happiness, why should policy makers work so hard to grow GNP? Surely, these economists reason, it makes more sense to shift priorities to boosting other forms of well-being, like happiness itself. Indeed, the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, admittedly one of the world's poorest countries and so not with a lot of cash to spare, has taken to promoting Gross National Happiness (GNH) in place of GNP.

I confess that I'm something of a happiness skeptic on this issue, although that may just mean I'm sad.... [Read on]

See the Page 69 Test entry for Darrin McMahon, Happiness: A History.

Two other recent books in the Page 69 Test series also address issues raised by happiness economics. See:
Diane Coyle, The Soulful Science
Gregg Easterbrook, The Progress Paradox
--Marshal Zeringue