Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Measuring Happiness

Arnold Kling of EconLog despises happiness research:
My view is that happiness research implies Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. I believe that you do not learn about economic behavior by watching what people say in response to a survey.
Precisely. You learn about economic behavior by watching what people actually do.

Of course, a person's happiness can't be reduced to a single number (e.g., disposable income or number of TVs owned). And, even if it could be, it's impossible to sum the happiness of individuals to arrive at some measure of collective happiness. Are we a happier nation if Joe is "unhappy" and Sadie is "happy" or if Joe is "happy" and Sadie is "unhappy"?

Happiness is a deeply personal thing, as indefinable as consciousness. Some individuals have a sense of happiness and keep it, in spite of adversity. Some individuals rarely have it, in spite of prosperity. Some individuals gain it and lose it with every smile of fortune and blow of fate. Each person is a unique, irreplicable "experiment" in happiness. That's my take.

Well, let's give happiness research a chance and see if it has uncovered useful insights. Michael at 2blowhards summarizes the implications of some happiness research:
* If your job isn't especially rewarding, pursue a hobby you love, one that delivers experiences of "flow."

* Don't focus too much on making money and buying things.

* Maintain a wide variety of friendships, and don't spend too much time alone.

* Cultivate gratitude and forgiveness, including forgiveness towards yourself.

* Don't try to feel great all the time -- that's not the way life works.
All of which could have been gleaned from introspection and self-help books, and none of which is especially new or particularly helpful:
* Taking up a hobby is old advice.

* Just how much focus on money is too much?

* Friends -- I have few and I spend a lot of time alone, and that makes me very happy because I'm a strong introvert.

* I'm very hard on myself, and always have been, but that has made me a happier person because I have fewer faults than I used to have.

* I guess I should try to feel miserable instead of great -- that'll make me happy.
Arnold Kling is right, "happiness research implies Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada."