Income = Happiness? A Strangely Tough Sell in Aspen

I spent last week at the Aspen Ideas Festival, talking about Betsey’s and my research on the Economics of Happiness. You might think that my message—that income and happiness are tightly linked—would be an easy sell in Aspen, which is the most beautiful and most expensive city I’ve ever visited. But in fact, it’s the millionaires, billionaires and public intellectuals who are often most resistant to data upsetting their beliefs. You see, the (false) belief that economic development won’t increase happiness is comfortingly counter-intuitive to the intelligentsia. And it’s oddly reassuring to the rich, who can fly their private jets into a ski resort feeling (falsely) relieved of any concern that the dollars involved could be better spent elsewhere.

Nine Ways to Guarantee Success (And Failure)

I really blew it and everyone knows it. I was even asked to speak at some conference about failure on I think June 13. I might’ve deluded myself into thinking I’m the keynote speaker. But I might just be on a panel. Hopefullly I won’t fail at it. But if I do, I hope you can all come and watch it happen in slow motion. By the way, my favorite technique in public speaking is to slightly slur my words, but that’s another post.

I’m like Dr. Failure. I know exactly what you need to do if you want your wife to hate you, if you want to get thrown out of school, if you want to lose your investors $100 million. If you want to lose your home.

One-sixteenth of the time people are happy. The rest of the time they’re not. So if you start to avoid all the things that cause unhappiness then maybe there’s a small chance you can improve the ratio in your favor.

Claudia says, “Why are you writing about failure? Think positive!” What? Avoiding every possible way to fail is the most positive thing you can do to be happy and successful.

No Worries, Mate: Australia Is Happiest Industrialized Nation

Growing up in Australia, I always knew it was true. And now The Wall Street Journal confirms it:

No worries, mate: Australia may be the world's happiest industrialized nation by one reckoning, even as it grapples with rising inflation, pricey housing and worries that it is developing a two-track economy.

The resource-rich nation ranked highly in areas such as overall satisfaction, health, leisure time and community networks, according to a new survey released Wednesday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development of the 34 nations that make up its membership. The index found that 75% of Australians were satisfied with their lives, above the U.S. average of 70% and well above the OECD's average of 59%, while 83% expect things to be even better in five years from now.

Strangely enough, a few years back Danny Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald—perhaps unsurprisingly, a pair of Brits—wrote a paper, “Happiness and the Human Development Index: The Paradox of Australia,” arguing that Australia was surprisingly unhappy. But there really never was a paradox. Instead, the authors were simply over-interpreting two datapoints.

The Least Radical Case for Happiness Economics

There’s a fascinating debate on happiness going on over at The Economist. Officially, the motion is that: “This house believes that new measures of economic and social progress are needed for the 21st-century economy.” My own contribution tries to discipline the grandiose rhetoric of both sides, concluding that:

[T]he benefits of new happiness data have surely been overstated. But we economists compare benefits with costs. Adding a couple of questions to existing surveys is so cheap that it almost certainly passes any cost-benefit analysis. And when the motion passes, we nerdy social scientists need to stop writing grandiose treatises and get back to the mundane grind of social science, mining these data for yet more incremental insight.

My full argument is available over the fold.

The Happiness Wars Continue

There's a growing sentiment among economists that GDP is a poor measure of a country's well-being. (See our recent podcast on the topic; also, the research of Joseph Stiglitz.) The latest fad among European governments seeking to separate the overall health of citizens from sluggish economic data is to ask them if they're happy. The results aren't exactly encouraging. Less than half of British adults feel they are thriving. And France now ranks as the world's most pessimistic country, with only 15 percent saying they expect things to get better in 2011.

Does Beauty Equal Happiness?

Are good-looking people happier than their unattractive counterparts? A new study says... they are indeed. But the reason why is different for men than it is for women.

The Old Money-and-Happiness Riddle

I sat down last week for a good chat with the smart folks who run the Planet Money podcast. The topic: Money and happiness.

Happy to Wait

"Emotions have historically received a bum rap from decision researchers" write economists John Ifcher and Homa Zarghamee. In a forthcoming paper called Happiness and Time Preference: The Effect of Positive Affect in a Random-Assignment Experiment, they address the tricky and oft-ignored role of emotion in decision-making.

Debunking the Easterlin Paradox, Again

I've written here before about my research with Betsey Stevenson showing that economic development is associated with rising life satisfaction. Some people find this result surprising, but it's the cleanest interpretation of the available data. Yet over the past few days, I've received calls from several journalists asking whether Richard Easterlin had somehow debunked these findings. He tried. But he failed.

Should We Hope Congestion Gets Worse?

One of the less cheery parts of studying transportation is that the activity you have devoted your life to is widely considered an unmitigated downer. Even aside from the external environmental costs each trip places on society, travel is held to be no fun for the traveler. We don't hop behind the wheel for the love of being honked at, cut off and stuck behind a creeping bus or semi; we endure travel only because we've got someplace to go. Right?