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What Do You Think Would Make You Happier? What Do You Think You Would Choose?

  • Daniel J. Benjamin
  • Ori Heffetz
  • Miles S. Kimball
  • Alex Rees-Jones

Would people choose what they think would maximize their subjective well-being (SWB)? We present survey respondents with hypothetical scenarios and elicit both choice and predicted SWB rankings of two alternatives. While choice and predicted SWB rankings usually coincide in our data, we find systematic reversals. We identify factors--such as predicted sense of purpose, control over one's life, family happiness, and social status--that help explain hypothetical choice controlling for predicted SWB. We explore how our findings vary by SWB measure and by scenario. Our results have implications regarding the use of SWB survey questions as a proxy for utility. (JEL D03, I31)

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/aer.102.5.2083
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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 102 (2012)
Issue (Month): 5 (August)
Pages: 2083-2110

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:102:y:2012:i:5:p:2083-2110
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  1. Erzo F.P. Luttmer, 2004. "Neighbors as Negatives: Relative Earnings and Well-Being," NBER Working Papers 10667, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Rafael Di Tella & Robert J. MacCulloch & Andrew J. Oswald, 2003. "The Macroeconomics of Happiness," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 85(4), pages 809-827, November.
  3. Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers, 2009. "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness," NBER Working Papers 14969, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Bruno Frey & Simon Luechinger & Alois Stutzer, 2009. "The life satisfaction approach to valuing public goods: The case of terrorism," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 138(3), pages 317-345, March.
  5. Finkelstein, Amy & Luttmer, Erzo F. P. & Notowidigdo, Matthew J., 2008. "What Good Is Wealth without Health? The Effect of Health on the Marginal Utility of Consumption," Working Paper Series rwp08-036, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
  6. Loewenstein, George & O'Donoghue, Ted & Rabin, Matthew, 2000. "Projection Bias in Predicting Future Utility," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt5qh6142m, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  7. Loewenstein, George & Ubel, Peter A., 2008. "Hedonic adaptation and the role of decision and experience utility in public policy," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(8-9), pages 1795-1810, August.
  8. M. Fleurbaey., 2012. "Beyond GDP: The Quest for a Measure of Social Welfare," VOPROSY ECONOMIKI, N.P. Redaktsiya zhurnala "Voprosy Economiki", vol. 3.
  9. Kahneman, Daniel & Wakker, Peter P & Sarin, Rakesh, 1997. "Back to Bentham? Explorations of Experienced Utility," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(2), pages 375-405, May.
  10. Luechinger, Simon & Raschky, Paul A., 2009. "Valuing flood disasters using the life satisfaction approach," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(3-4), pages 620-633, April.
  11. Daniel J. Benjamin & Ori Heffetz & Miles S. Kimball & Alex Rees-Jones, 2010. "Do People Seek to Maximize Happiness? Evidence from New Surveys," NBER Working Papers 16489, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Laibson, David, 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 112(2), pages 443-77, May.
  13. Easterlin, Richard A., 1995. "Will raising the incomes of all increase the happiness of all?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 27(1), pages 35-47, June.
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