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Minimising misery: a new strategy for public policies instead of maximising happiness?

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  • Lelkes, Orsolya

Abstract

This paper raises the issue whether public policy should focus on minimizing unhappiness rather than maximizing happiness. Using a cross-sectional multi-country dataset with 57 thousand observations from 29 European countries, we show that unhappiness varies a great deal more across social groups than (high levels of) happiness does. Our findings are robust to several alternative specifications, using both self-reported life satisfaction and self-reported happiness, and different cut-off points for defining unhappiness (dissatisfaction) and high levels of happiness (satisfaction). While misery appears to strongly relate to broad social issues (such as unemployment, poverty, social isolation), bliss might be more of a private matter, with individual strategies and attitudes, hidden from the eye of a policy-maker. The social cost of unhappiness may be also reflected in the immense cost of mental health problems. Preventing avoidable unhappiness, however, needs to be complemented with other strategies for promoting happiness, perhaps on a more decentralized level, given the different causes of bliss and that of misery.

Suggested Citation

  • Lelkes, Orsolya, 2013. "Minimising misery: a new strategy for public policies instead of maximising happiness?," MPRA Paper 45435, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:45435
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    File URL: https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/45435/1/MPRA_paper_45435.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. George Loewenstein & Ted O'Donoghue & Matthew Rabin, 2003. "Projection Bias in Predicting Future Utility," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 118(4), pages 1209-1248.
    2. Lelkes, Orsolya, 2006. "Knowing what is good for you: Empirical analysis of personal preferences and the "objective good"," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 35(2), pages 285-307, April.
    3. Clark, Andrew E & Oswald, Andrew J, 1994. "Unhappiness and Unemployment," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 104(424), pages 648-659, May.
    4. Andrew E. Clark & Ed Diener & Yannis Georgellis & Richard E. Lucas, 2008. "Lags And Leads in Life Satisfaction: a Test of the Baseline Hypothesis," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 118(529), pages 222-243, June.
    5. Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, 2000. "Maximising Happiness?," German Economic Review, Verein für Socialpolitik, vol. 1(2), pages 145-167, May.
    6. Winkelmann, Liliana & Winkelmann, Rainer, 1998. "Why Are the Unemployed So Unhappy? Evidence from Panel Data," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 65(257), pages 1-15, February.
    7. Loewenstein, George & Adler, Daniel, 1995. "A Bias in the Prediction of Tastes," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 105(431), pages 929-937, July.
    8. Heidi Lepper, 1998. "Use of Other-Reports to Validate Subjective Well-Being Measures," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 44(3), pages 367-379, July.
    9. Geraldine Olson & Brigitte Schober, 1993. "The satisfied poor," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 28(2), pages 173-193, February.
    10. Ed Diener & Ronald Inglehart & Louis Tay, 2013. "Theory and Validity of Life Satisfaction Scales," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 112(3), pages 497-527, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Geiger, Ben Baumberg & MacKerron, George, 2016. "Can alcohol make you happy? A subjective wellbeing approach," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 156(C), pages 184-191.
    2. Lelkes, Orsolya, 2014. "Boldog-boldogtalan - a közpolitika szerepe
      [Happiness and unhappiness. The role of public policies]
      ," Közgazdasági Szemle (Economic Review - monthly of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), Közgazdasági Szemle Alapítvány (Economic Review Foundation), vol. 0(12), pages 1381-1396.
    3. Michal Brzezinski, 2017. "Diagnosing unhappiness dynamics: Evidence from Poland and Russia," Working Papers 2017-27, Faculty of Economic Sciences, University of Warsaw.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Happiness; Unhappiness; Life Satisfaction; Public Policy; Bipolar Scales;

    JEL classification:

    • D02 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Institutions: Design, Formation, Operations, and Impact
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being

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