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Building an Epidemiology of Happiness

Author

Listed:
  • John F. Helliwell
  • David Gyarmati
  • Craig Joyce
  • Heather Orpana

Abstract

Starting from the assumption that improving well-being is the central consideration for public policies, we show how subjective well-being research can help, and already is helping, to choose public policies based on their consequences for all aspects of life. The core of the paper lies in examples where the methods we propose, often in systematic experimental contexts, have already been used to guide the evaluation and ranking of alternative policy options in public health, education, workplace training, and social welfare. The arrival of COVID-19 has increased the urgency for a well-being focus, since the policy decisions being faced by governments dealing with the pandemic require an approach much broader than provided by more typical policy evaluations in all disciplines, including especially the social context and the distribution of costs and consequences. A broader approach to policy design and choice is fully consistent with the underlying aims of epidemiology, with similar gains likely in other policy disciplines. A focus on subjective well-being as an umbrella measure of welfare might help to restore to economics the breadth of purpose and methods it had two centuries ago, when happiness was considered the appropriate goal for private actions and public policies.

Suggested Citation

  • John F. Helliwell & David Gyarmati & Craig Joyce & Heather Orpana, 2020. "Building an Epidemiology of Happiness," NBER Working Papers 28095, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:28095
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Frijters, Paul & Clark, Andrew E. & Krekel, Christian & Layard, Richard, 2020. "A happy choice: wellbeing as the goal of government," Behavioural Public Policy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 4(2), pages 126-165, July.
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    6. Joseph Stiglitz & Amartya Sen & Jean-Paul Fitoussi, 2009. "The measurement of economic performance and social progress revisited: Reflections and Overview," Sciences Po publications 2009-33, Sciences Po.
    7. John Helliwell & Haifang Huang, 2011. "Well-Being and Trust in the Workplace," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 12(5), pages 747-767, October.
    8. Layard, Richard & Clark, Andrew E. & De Neve, Jan-Emmanuel & Krekel, Christian & Fancourt, Daisy & Hey, Nancy & O'Donnell, Gus, 2020. "When to release the lockdown: a wellbeing framework for analysing costs and benefits," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 104276, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    9. Joseph E. Stiglitz & Amartya Sen & Jean-Paul Fitoussi, 2009. "The measurement of economic performance and social progress revisited," Documents de Travail de l'OFCE 2009-33, Observatoire Francais des Conjonctures Economiques (OFCE).
    10. Kawachi, Ichiro & Subramanian, S.V., 2018. "Social epidemiology for the 21st century," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 196(C), pages 240-245.
    11. John F. Helliwell & Aneta Bonikowska & Hugh Shiplett, 2016. "Migration as a Test of the Happiness Set Point Hypothesis: Evidence from Immigration to Canada," NBER Working Papers 22601, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. John F. Helliwell & Lara B. Aknin, 2018. "Expanding the social science of happiness," Nature Human Behaviour, Nature, vol. 2(4), pages 248-252, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Philip S. Morrison & Stephanié Rossouw & Talita Greyling, 2022. "The impact of exogenous shocks on national wellbeing. New Zealanders’ reaction to COVID-19," Applied Research in Quality of Life, Springer;International Society for Quality-of-Life Studies, vol. 17(3), pages 1787-1812, June.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H12 - Public Economics - - Structure and Scope of Government - - - Crisis Management
    • H51 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Government Expenditures and Health
    • I14 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health and Inequality
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being

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