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Understanding and Improving the Social Context of Well-Being

  • John F. Helliwell

The paper first attempts to demonstrate the fundamental importance of the social context. The related evidence is drawn from recent theoretical and empirical advances in the study of subjective well-being. Treating people's self-assessments of the quality of their lives as valid measures of well-being exposes the importance of the social context and suggests new ways to design better policies. The paper starts with demonstrations of the unexpectedly great well-being consequences of social and pro-social behavior. In addition, evidence is advanced to show an evolutionary fitness for social and pro-social behaviors above and beyond those flowing through their direct consequences for subjective well-being. This is followed by discussion of specific measures of the social context, of the fundamental importance of trust as social glue, and of several experiments designed to improve subjective well-being.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18486.

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Date of creation: Oct 2012
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18486
Note: DEV PE
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  1. John F. Helliwell & Christopher P. Barrington-Leigh & Anthony Harris & Haifang Huang, 2009. "International Evidence on the Social Context of Well-Being," NBER Working Papers 14720, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Roland Benabou & Jean Tirole, 2010. "Individual and Corporate Social Responsibility," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 77(305), pages 1-19, 01.
  3. Lara B. Aknin & Christopher P. Barrington-Leigh & Elizabeth W. Dunn & John F. Helliwell & Robert Biswas-Diener & Imelda Kemeza & Paul Nyende & Claire E. Ashton-James & Michael I. Norton, 2010. "Prosocial Spending and Well-Being: Cross-Cultural Evidence for a Psychological Universal," NBER Working Papers 16415, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Schwartz, Carolyn E. & Sendor, Rabbi Meir, 1999. "Helping others helps oneself: response shift effects in peer support," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 48(11), pages 1563-1575, June.
  5. John F. Helliwell & Haifang Huang, 2010. "How's the Job? Well-Being and Social Capital in the Workplace," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 63(2), pages 205-227, January.
  6. Herbert Gintis, 2000. "Strong Reciprocity and Human Sociality," UMASS Amherst Economics Working Papers 2000-02, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Economics.
  7. DiTella, Rafael & MacCulloch, Robert & Oswald, Andrew J., 2001. "Preferences over inflation and unemployment: Evidence from surveys of happiness," ZEI Working Papers B 03-2001, ZEI - Center for European Integration Studies, University of Bonn.
  8. John F. Helliwell & Haifang Huang, 2011. "New measures of the costs of unemployment: Evidence from the subjective well-being of 3.3 million Americans," NBER Working Papers 16829, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Joseph Henrich, 2001. "In Search of Homo Economicus: Behavioral Experiments in 15 Small-Scale Societies," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 73-78, May.
  10. John F. Helliwell & Shun Wang, 2011. "Weekends and Subjective Well-Being," NBER Working Papers 17180, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. John F. Helliwell & Robert D. Putnam, 1995. "Economic Growth and Social Capital in Italy," Eastern Economic Journal, Eastern Economic Association, vol. 21(3), pages 295-307, Summer.
  12. John F. Helliwell & Christopher P. Barrington-Leigh, 2010. "How Much is Social Capital Worth?," NBER Working Papers 16025, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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