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Minimising Misery: A New Strategy for Public Policies Instead of Maximising Happiness?

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  • Orsolya Lelkes

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Abstract

This paper raises the issue whether public policy should focus on minimizing unhappiness rather than maximizing happiness. Using a cross-sectional multi-country dataset with 57,000 observations from 29 European countries, we show that unhappiness varies a great deal more across social groups than (high levels of) happiness does. Our findings are robust to several alternative specifications, using both self-reported life satisfaction and self-reported happiness, and different cut-off points for defining unhappiness (dissatisfaction) and high levels of happiness (satisfaction). While misery appears to strongly relate to broad social issues (such as unemployment, poverty, social isolation), bliss might be more of a private matter, with individual strategies and attitudes, hidden from the eye of a policy-maker. The social cost of unhappiness may be also reflected in the immense cost of mental health problems. Preventing avoidable unhappiness, however, needs to be complemented with other strategies for promoting happiness, perhaps on a more decentralized level, given the different causes of bliss and that of misery. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Springer in its journal Social Indicators Research.

Volume (Year): 114 (2013)
Issue (Month): 1 (October)
Pages: 121-137

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Handle: RePEc:spr:soinre:v:114:y:2013:i:1:p:121-137

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Web page: http://www.springer.com/economics/journal/11135

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Keywords: Happiness; Unhappiness; Life satisfaction; Public policy; Bipolar scales;

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  1. Clark, Andrew E. & Diener, Ed & Georgellis, Yannis & Lucas, Richard E., 2006. "Lags and Leads in Life Satisfaction: A Test of the Baseline Hypothesis," IZA Discussion Papers 2526, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, . "Maximising Happiness?," IEW - Working Papers 022, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  3. Orsolya Lelkes, 2004. "Knowing what is good for you. Empirical analysis of personal preferences and the “objective good”," Others 0410010, EconWPA.
  4. Heidi Lepper, 1998. "Use of Other-Reports to Validate Subjective Well-Being Measures," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 44(3), pages 367-379, July.
  5. Loewenstein, George & O'Donoghue, Ted & Rabin, Matthew, 2002. "Projection Bias in Predicting Future Utility," Working Papers 02-11, Cornell University, Center for Analytic Economics.
  6. Geraldine Olson & Brigitte Schober, 1993. "The satisfied poor," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 28(2), pages 173-193, February.
  7. Ed Diener & Ronald Inglehart & Louis Tay, 2013. "Theory and Validity of Life Satisfaction Scales," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 112(3), pages 497-527, July.
  8. Winkelmann, Liliana & Winkelmann, Rainer, 1998. "Why Are the Unemployed So Unhappy? Evidence from Panel Data," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 65(257), pages 1-15, February.
  9. Clark, Andrew E & Oswald, Andrew J, 1994. "Unhappiness and Unemployment," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 104(424), pages 648-59, May.
  10. Loewenstein, George & Adler, Daniel, 1995. "A Bias in the Prediction of Tastes," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 105(431), pages 929-37, July.
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