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Happiness Studies: Ways to Improve Comparability and Some Public Policy Implications

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Recent happiness studies by psychologists, sociologists and economists have produced many interesting results. These have important implications, including the need to focus less on purely objective (including economic) variables and more on subjective well-being. In particular, the focus on GDP should be supplemented (if not replaced) by more acceptable national success indicators such as the environmentally responsible happy nation index. Welfare economics and cost-benefit analysis that are currently based on economic factors (which are in turn based on preferences) should be revised to be based on happiness or welfare. Public spending on areas important for welfare should be preferred over private consumption that is largely no longer important for long-term welfare at the social level. Public policy should put more emphasis (than suggested by existing economic analysis) on factors more important for happiness than economic production and consumption, including employment, environmental quality, equality, health and safety. Above all, scientific advance in general and in brain stimulation and genetic engineering in particular may offer the real breakthroughs against the biological or psychological limitations on happiness. Some simple ways to improve the accuracy and comparability (including interpersonal) of happiness measurement are suggested: pinning down the level of neutrality, recognising the possible nonlinear scale used in self-reports, and using the just perceivable increment of pleasure as the interpersonally comparable unit. Copyright © 2008 The Economic Society of Australia.

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Article provided by The Economic Society of Australia in its journal Economic Record.

Volume (Year): 84 (2008)
Issue (Month): 265 (06)
Pages: 253-266

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Handle: RePEc:bla:ecorec:v:84:y:2008:i:265:p:253-266
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