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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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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w18486.pdf
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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
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18486
Note: DEV PE
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  1. 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.
  2. Robert J. MacCulloch & Rafael Di Tella & Andrew J. Oswald, 2001. "Preferences over Inflation and Unemployment: Evidence from Surveys of Happiness," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(1), pages 335-341, March.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Benabou, Roland & Tirole, Jean, 2009. "Individual and Corporate Social Responsibility," IZA Discussion Papers 4570, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  6. 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.
  7. Herbert Gintis, 2000. "Strong Reciprocity and Human Sociality," UMASS Amherst Economics Working Papers 2000-02, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Economics.
  8. John F. Helliwell & Christopher P. Barrington-Leigh, 2010. "How Much is Social Capital Worth?," NBER Working Papers 16025, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. 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.
  10. John Helliwell & Shun Wang, 2014. "Weekends and Subjective Well-Being," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 116(2), pages 389-407, April.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
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