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

  • Lelkes, Orsolya

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.

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Paper provided by University Library of Munich, Germany in its series MPRA Paper with number 45435.

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Date of creation: Mar 2013
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Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:45435
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  1. Ed Diener & Ronald Inglehart & Louis Tay, 2013. "Theory and Validity of Life Satisfaction Scales," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 112(3), pages 497-527, July.
  2. Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, . "Maximising Happiness?," IEW - Working Papers 022, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  3. Heidi Lepper, 1998. "Use of Other-Reports to Validate Subjective Well-Being Measures," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 44(3), pages 367-379, July.
  4. Loewenstein, George & O'Donoghue, Ted & Rabin, Matthew, 2002. "Projection Bias in Predicting Future Utility," Working Papers 02-11, Cornell University, Center for Analytic Economics.
  5. Andrew Clark & Ed Diener & Yannis Georgellis & Richard E. Lucas, 2003. "Lags and Leads in Life Satisfaction: A Test of the Baseline Hypothesis," DELTA Working Papers 2003-14, DELTA (Ecole normale supérieure).
  6. Geraldine Olson & Brigitte Schober, 1993. "The satisfied poor," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 28(2), pages 173-193, February.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Loewenstein, George & Adler, Daniel, 1995. "A Bias in the Prediction of Tastes," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 105(431), pages 929-37, July.
  10. Clark, Andrew E & Oswald, Andrew J, 1994. "Unhappiness and Unemployment," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 104(424), pages 648-59, May.
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