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Happiness, freedom and control

  • Verme, Paolo

How do people value freedom of choice? Drawing on economics and psychology the paper provides an hypothesis and empirical evidence on how individuals may value freedom of choice and derive utility from it. It is argued that the degree of perceived control that individuals have over choice - a construct known as the locus of control in psychology - regulates how we value freedom of choice. People who believe that the outcome of their actions depends on internal factors such as effort and skills (the 'internals') have a greater appreciation of freedom of choice than people who believe that the outcome of their actions depends on external factors such as fate or destiny (the 'externals'). We find some evidence in support of this hypothesis using a combination of all rounds of the World and European Values Surveys. A variable that measures freedom of choice and the locus of control is found to predict life satisfaction better than any other known factor such as health, employment, income, marriage or religion, across countries and within countries. We show that this variable is not a proxy of happiness and measures well both freedom of choice and the locus of control. 'Internals' are found to appreciate freedom of choice more than 'externals' and to be happier. These findings have important implications for individual utility, social welfare and public policies.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.

Volume (Year): 71 (2009)
Issue (Month): 2 (August)
Pages: 146-161

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Handle: RePEc:eee:jeborg:v:71:y:2009:i:2:p:146-161
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  1. James J. Heckman, 1999. "Policies to Foster Human Capital," NBER Working Papers 7288, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  13. Melissa Osborne & Herbert Gintis & Samuel Bowles, 2001. "The Determinants of Earnings: A Behavioral Approach," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 39(4), pages 1137-1176, December.
  14. Alberto Alesina & Nicola Fuchs-Sch√ľndeln, 2007. "Goodbye Lenin (or Not?): The Effect of Communism on People," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 97(4), pages 1507-1528, September.
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