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Is There an "Iron Law of Happiness"?


  • Richard A. Easterlin


Contrary to the setpoint model of some psychologists, individual happiness does not tend to fluctuate around a constant level. Although the personality and genetic factors emphasized by setpoint theorists are important in explaining individual differences in happiness at a point in time, survey evidence demonstrates that over the life cycle economic circumstances, family life, health, and work are important in determining the course of happiness. However, life events do not necessarily dominate life cycle satisfaction in different domains, and economic theories of well-being would benefit from following psychologists’ lead by incorporating goals and adaptation.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard A. Easterlin, 2005. "Is There an "Iron Law of Happiness"?," IEPR Working Papers 05.8, Institute of Economic Policy Research (IEPR).
  • Handle: RePEc:scp:wpaper:05-8

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. McAfee, R Preston & Quan, Daniel C & Vincent, Daniel R, 2002. "How to Set Minimum Acceptable Bids, with an Application to Real Estate Auctions," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 50(4), pages 391-416, December.
    2. Blume, Andreas & Heidhues, Paul, 2004. "All equilibria of the Vickrey auction," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 114(1), pages 170-177, January.
    3. Steven A. Matthews, 1995. "A Technical Primer on Auction Theory I: Independent Private Values," Discussion Papers 1096, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
    4. Samuelson, William F., 1985. "Competitive bidding with entry costs," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 17(1-2), pages 53-57.
    5. McAfee, R. Preston & McMillan, John, 1987. "Auctions with entry," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 23(4), pages 343-347.
    6. Harstad, Ronald M, 1990. "Alternative Common-Value Auction Procedures: Revenue Comparisons with Free Entry," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 98(2), pages 421-429, April.
    7. Stegeman, Mark, 1996. "Participation Costs and Efficient Auctions," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 71(1), pages 228-259, October.
    8. King, Ian & Welling, Linda & Preston McAfee, R., 1992. "Investment decisions under first and second price auctions," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 39(3), pages 289-293, July.
    9. Levin, Dan & Smith, James L, 1994. "Equilibrium in Auctions with Entry," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(3), pages 585-599, June.
    10. Tan, Guofu, 1992. "Entry and R & D in procurement contracting," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 58(1), pages 41-60, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Graham, Liam & Oswald, Andrew J., 2010. "Hedonic capital, adaptation and resilience," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 76(2), pages 372-384, November.

    More about this item


    Happiness; Aspirations; Adaptation;

    JEL classification:

    • D60 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - General
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • A12 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Other Disciplines

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