Economics, Literature and Scepticism

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I am a PhD student in Economics. I am originally from South Africa and plan to return there after my PhD. I completed my M. Comm in Economics and my MA In Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Cape Town, where I worked as a lecturer before starting my PhD.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Boston Globe on Happiness Research

Posted by Simon Halliday | Wednesday, May 20, 2009 | Category: |

'Perfectly happy', the title of the Boston Globe article on happiness, is a bit of a misnomer because 'happiness' research still has not defined way to make people 'perfectly happy', but just probably 'happier than you'd think'. Nevertheless, many of the comments that the journalist makes about happiness are valid.  For example, "what we're learning should make us reconsider some of the basic rules by which government regulates behavior: how we litigate lawsuits and write contracts; how we zone neighborhoods; which medical research we fund, and how we prioritize healthcare."
Another interesting one, at least as far as economic and urban policy is concerned: "Cornell economist Robert Frank has pointed out, the two things affect our mood in different ways. While we quickly adapt to a bigger house and start taking it for granted, research suggests that a long, trafficky commute is something we never adjust to, and that even grows more onerous with time."

What I find strange though is that the author made no reference in the article to the fairly exhaustive research on the correlates of physical outcomes and happiness.  For example, values on happiness index (or better a 'subjective well-being index or measure) correlate with 'true' smiles, diagnosis of clinical depression, use of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication, incidence of suicide, skin response measures to stress, and many more.  These act as 'objective' measures of the legitimacy of subjective well-being research. I reiterate here that I am in favour of calling it 'subjective well-being' and not 'happiness' (or even felicity as some do). 

Anyway, I am glad that research into subjective well-being has begun to affect the way that the policy-makers and law-makers think.  I am interested to see what kinds of research is done on this topic in developing countries, and particularly South Africa.  Who knows, I may contribute to it eventually - I am playing with some data at the moment and will let you know. 

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