Maximizing Happiness Does Not Maximize Welfare

Yves here. This post gives another vantage on the money versus happiness issue, this time through the lens of where people choose to live. And you can also find out what the happiest city in the US is. However, I know that city well and I would not be terribly happy there, so which leads me to question the premise of the article, that of of happy cities that are assumed to be a good fit for everyone.

By Edward Glaeser, Professor of Economics, Harvard University and Joshua Gottlieb,Assistant Professor in the Vancouver School of Economics, University of British Columbia. Originally published at VoxEU

Governments are now measuring happiness, or subjective wellbeing, and some have begun trying to maximise it. This column discusses recent research showing that happiness is not the same thing as utility. The choices people make suggest that they have desires and objectives other than happiness. It is therefore possible to make people worse off while increasing their reported subjective wellbeing.

Recent interest in the psychology and economics of happiness has had pronounced influence on public policy. The high-profile report by Stiglitz et al. (2009) epitomises a push for policies to explicitly promote increases in survey measures of wellbeing as a major social objective. Places ranging from the country of Bhutan to the city of Somerville, Massachusetts explicitly measure happiness, or subjective wellbeing, and strive for improvements over time in such measures.

We discuss the tensions surrounding the measurement of a personal or social welfare function using happiness data. Because resources are scarce, a push to improve happiness reallocates resources away from other desires or objectives. We discuss the theoretical problem with this effort. We then consider recent research about the distinction between happiness and utility. This evidence suggests that happiness is not equivalent to utility, so welfare economics does not justify happiness maximisation as a policy goal.
Interpretation of happiness relative to welfare

Economists define utility as a measure of individuals’ preferences over potential choices. A rich tradition of welfare economics builds on this simple choice-based concept to understand how various policies affect social welfare, whether for better or for worse. Importantly, this literature is based on a social objective function that reflects revealed preferences (Feldman 2008).

The appropriate interpretation of subjective wellbeing hinges on whether or not stated happiness measures utility. If it does not, then a policy to improve individuals’ stated happiness will not necessarily represent the choices those people would have made for themselves. In this case the policy cannot be justified based on traditional welfare analysis.

Empirical Evidence on the Relationship Between Happiness and Utility

In a series of novel experiments and surveys, Benjamin et al. (2011, 2012, 2013) conduct surveys about actual or hypothetical choices people make and measure the expected happiness associated with each choice. They find that actual choices and happiness-maximising choices are positively correlated. But they are not identical. Respondents are prepared to sacrifice happiness in furtherance of another objective, such as a higher income (Benjamin et al. 2011).

In Glaeser et al. (2014), we consider a similar distinction in the context of differences among metropolitan areas. Urban economics uses the concept of a spatial equilibrium (Rosen 1976, Roback 1982) to analyse an economy with many places where an individual can locate. In this equilibrium, people choose the locale offering the highest utility. This equilibrium concept explains numerous empirical realities (Glaeser and Gottlieb 2009) and is used for welfare analysis of policies that influence location decisions across cities (Glaeser and Gottlieb 2008, Moretti 2013, Diamond 2014).

If happiness were a measure of utility then we could apply the Rosen–Roback spatial equilibrium concept to happiness. A country in spatial equilibrium in terms of utility would also be in a spatial equilibrium in terms of happiness. Such an equilibrium would imply that a marginal migrant could not improve her happiness by living in a different place. If this equality were satisfied – so happiness were equal to utility – then policies to improve happiness could also improve welfare. Otherwise they may not.

In Glaeser et al. (2014), we measure subjective wellbeing across US regions using a large national survey. We use responses to a question in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) conducted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2005–2010), which asks,

“In general, how satisfied are you with your life?”

Possible answers are “very dissatisfied”, “dissatisfied”, “satisfied”, and “very satisfied”. We adjust the responses for demographic characteristics and sampling error.1 We can then determine each area’s subjective wellbeing for a comparable person.

We map these adjusted measures for each US metropolitan area and non-metropolitan region in Figure 1. (The Washington Post has produced another version of this map here.) We see that the Rust Belt, which includes areas such as Detroit and much of the Midwest, generally has lower subjective wellbeing than the rest of the country. From the mid-19th century the Rust Belt developed extensive manufacturing, but it declined significantly during the second half of the 20th century. New York City and much of California also have lower reported happiness, while the happiest areas are concentrated in the West, Upper Midwest, and rural South.

Figure 1. Estimated metropolitan and rural area adjusted happiness

gottlieb fig1 14 oct

Source: Reprinted courtesy of the Journal of Labor Economics (Glaeser et al. 2014).

Notes: This figure shows each metropolitan and rural area’s adjusted life satisfaction, after controlling for demographic covariates in a mixed effects model. Data are from CDC (2005–2009).

When we examine relationships between life satisfaction and a range of area characteristics, the most striking fact relates to urban decline. As Figure 2 shows, cities experiencing the lowest population growth rates from 1950 to 2000 report significantly lower life satisfaction. This pattern shows up in our regressions with very strong statistical significance. It is robust to numerous specification checks and different assumptions about functional forms.

Figure 2. Population change and adjusted happiness

gottlieb fig2 14 oct

Source: Reprinted courtesy of the Journal of Labor Economics (Glaeser et al. 2014).

Notes: This figure shows each metropolitan and rural area’s adjusted life satisfaction, after controlling for demographic covariates in a mixed effects model, against Metropolitan Statistical Area population change from 1950 to 2000. Data are from CDC (2005–2010).

The welfare consequences of these differences depend on whether people are actively choosing where to live. If people are choosing to live in less happy areas when they have other options, this would suggest that they are making a conscious choice in favour of an area despite its low happiness. Figure 3 shows the distribution of population based on the happiness of the area where each person lives (as measured above). We show two distributions, one for people who moved between metropolitan areas from 2010 to 2011, and one for non-movers. For the movers, we use the adjusted life satisfaction of the new areas where they chose to live after the move.

Figure 3. Population distribution based on area happiness for movers and overall population

gottlieb fig3 14 oct

Notes: This figure shows the distribution of population by the happiness of the area where each person lives, and the distribution of movers based on their new area’s happiness. Happiness measures reflect each metropolitan and rural area’s adjusted life satisfaction, after controlling for demographic covariates in a mixed effects model using data from CDC (2005–2010). Migration data are from Internal Revenue Service (2012).

The figure shows a shift of population towards the happier areas on average. But there is still very substantial migration into unhappy cities. Eight percent of people who moved between metropolitan areas moved into an area in the bottom decile of subjective wellbeing.3 Unless these new arrivals experience different happiness than the long-term residents, it would not make sense for them to move to dissatisfied areas if they were trying to maximise their happiness.

To determine whether these migrants experience the low happiness of their new homes, we use another dataset, the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH), to investigate the movers’ own subjective wellbeing after their moves. We find that the strong relationship between population decline and lower happiness that we documented in the BRFSS persists in the NSFH data on movers. This leads us to believe that the life satisfaction measures do not merely reflect the selection of unhappy people into particular places. The movers experience the low happiness of the area they have chosen, and yet they nonetheless choose to move there.

Why Would People Choose an Unhappy City?

Given that areas have different happiness levels, and some movers nonetheless migrate towards less happy locations, they appear to be looking for something other than pure happiness. Otherwise we might expect everyone to move to Charlottesville, Virginia – the happiest metropolitan area according to our measure. What are less happy areas offering to offset their sadness?

Our paper presents evidence that unhappy areas can compensate their residents with higher real incomes. We use historical survey data to show that larger, more productive cities were unhappy even during their more successful days. Residents were compensated for this unhappiness with better job opportunities and higher incomes. During the Rust Belt’s heyday, firms located in these cities for their natural advantages, such as access to waterways, that made up for the loss in happiness.

When the value of these natural advantages fell, and the cities became less productive, their populations declined significantly. These areas remain unhappy, but the population decline drove significant decreases in housing prices. This lowers the cost of living, so declining cities can offer surprisingly high real incomes to partly compensate for their lower reported wellbeing. This tradeoff is consistent with a model in which happiness is one component of utility. It is harder to reconcile with the idea that happiness is equivalent to utility, or is individuals’ ultimate objective.

How to Understand Happiness as Distinct from Utility

A long philosophical tradition presents normative arguments that appear consistent with the patterns of happiness across cities that we document. Epictetus (1916) wrote around 1900 years ago that deeper goals – such as freedom, nobility, and self-respect – ought to trump happiness.

We interpret our results in Glaeser et al. (2014) using a model that – building on Becker and Rayo (2008) – allows choices between happiness and other goals. Our particular application of these concepts, in the context of location choice, would not surprise Bernard de Mandeville (1714). He argued forcefully in The Fable of the Bees that it is perfectly sensible to choose busier, but less happy, locales. In the same vein, it was perfectly sensible for the medical students surveyed by Benjamin et al. (2013) to trade some happiness for the benefits of a higher-ranked medical residency.

Policy Implications of Happiness if it is Not Welfare

Increasing happiness is not free. The empirical evidence is clear that higher incomes increase happiness levels (Sacks et al. 2010), and cities such as Somerville are expending resources on projects intended to increase reported happiness. While some such projects may improve welfare, this is not guaranteed just by virtue of increasing happiness. It is possible to make people worse off while increasing their reported subjective wellbeing.

Given the subjective interpretation of survey responses, relying on subjective wellbeing data could generate misleading recommendations for policy efforts. If policymakers reallocate resources away from endeavours with known welfare gains on the basis of happiness surveys, these decisions could reduce welfare. Stiglitz et al. (2009) are undoubtedly correct that current measures of GDP do not perfectly capture welfare. But the theoretical and empirical literature on happiness teaches us to be cautious of redirecting resources away from tangible improvements in well-being towards more speculative objectives based on happiness measures.

See original post for references

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. vlade

    From what I’ve seen hapiness is fairly correlated with selfishness. I.e. people who are willing to take more care of others than self are usually not that happy. Which intuitively makes sense – if others are not happy, and you care abou them, you can’t be happy yourself easily.

    Also, another interesting correlation was that people who are driven to achieve things tend to be unhappy. Again, intuitively it makes sense – if you’r perfectly happy and in a blis, why would you want to change anything?

    So targetting happiness may not be what you really want in the first place.

      1. vlade

        Will try to find it and email you.

        Again, intuitively, it’s more along the lines “a successfull act of altruism” increases pleasure, not just act of altruism. Otherwise you’d think that say medical staff in Siera Leonne right now are about the happiest people on Earth, as helping others at a very high risk of your life is IMO one of the most altruistic acts you can do.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Why do you necessarily assume they are not? One of the world’s leading researchers on happiness says it comes from intense engagement with an activity. What could be more intense than saving lives, even at risk to your own life?

          In his seminal work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csíkszentmihályi outlines his theory that people are happiest when they are in a state of flow— a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. It is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.[9] The idea of flow is identical to the feeling of being in the zone or in the groove. The flow state is an optimal state of intrinsic motivation, where the person is fully immersed in what he is doing. This is a feeling everyone has at times, characterized by a feeling of great absorption, engagement, fulfillment, and skill—and during which temporal concerns (time, food, ego-self, etc.) are typically ignored.[9]

          In an interview with Wired magazine, Csíkszentmihályi described flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

          They may not be the happiest people on earth but I would not assume that they do not derive satisfaction from the process of what they are doing, even if they save few lives. The lead doctor on Ebola, I believe in Sierra Leone, who was highly respected, and had treated at least dozens of cases, said he very much valued his life and did not want to die, yet he went on to treat patients. How do you reconcile that?

          1. vlade

            Because I’d think they don’t have time to be happy so to say.

            I’ve read Flow – heck, I even experienced it. I can’t say at the time I was “happy”. I can say I was immersed (few times literally, as it was doing some technical diving.. ) and could not think of anything else, and definitely “felt different”. But I would not say I was happy at the time – I just didn’t think of anything else than what I was doing at that time. I could not think of anything else, nothing else existed.

            The article I posted from The Atlantic I believe is a good exhibition of that – i.e. between raw happiness and what I’d call life satisfaction.

            But maybe we’re just discussing semantics because what you mean by happy is somewhat different from what I mean by happy.

            Re the doctor and reconciliation, I realise it’s not really a comparable per se, but I’ll go back to my technical diving. Clearly I didn’t want to die, and before a dive I was usually scared as hell (the diving tended to be going down 50m in muddy, currenty waters into rusting wrecks where every room could turn into a steel trap at any time. No lack of skill, just plain old bad luck). But when I hit the water, all of sudden it was all gone, all that was there was the dive iteself. I was happy after the dive, but during it there just wasn’t time for anything outside the dive, often not even awe (that usually come later on in the memories of the dive).

            1. susan the other

              We use the word (happiness) because it is a universal feeling. But different for each of us. The German word for happy (glucklich) actually means “lucky.” Lucky you Vlade. Personally, I’ve never been able to approach a “state” of happiness because I always have too much on my mind – except for those rare occasions when I’m working on a painting and forget everything else. On a good day I used to say, “Happy, what’s that? I’m not happy or sad – I’m just pleasantly neutral.” The freedom to be pleasantly neutral is something we have not achieved. It is fleeting because we never know what we have to face, today or tomorrow.

            2. Yves Smith Post author

              The American notion of happiness seems more like giddiness, a short term emotional high which is not sustainable. But part of the perceived success equation is being happy, so I suspect a lot of people over-report their happiness here.

          2. impermanence

            “Why do you necessarily assume they are not? One of the world’s leading researchers on happiness says it comes from intense engagement with an activity. What could be more intense than saving lives, even at risk to your own life?”

            Few examples more accurately reveal the emptiness of intellectualism than a discussion on “happiness.” As if anybody truly understands what this state is.

            If you care to divorce oneself from the duality of happiness/sadness, then it becomes possible to see their existence is as brief as are all things.

            Taking this further to consider the “happiness of a geographical area” is a good example of how people attempt to understand that which is incomprehensible by dressing the notion in some familiar costume.

            Things are just the way they are no matter what our individual mood happens to be at a particular moment. Rest assured, it will be fleeting [as are all things].

  2. Jonathan

    This illustrates Wittgenstein’s point about conceptual confusion in psychology. Defining ‘happiness’ as current gratification and ‘welfare’ as longer-term gratification, we scratch our heads and wonder whether they are really always the same thing. “Is a function really so distinct from its derivatives?”

    Yves, why would you be less happy in Cville. VA?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      1. You have to own a car.

      2. The town is pretty conformist and “nice”. People who are direct and intense, both of which I am, are not well received.

      3. Very few places in the US tolerate single women well. Outside of a few major cities, they are treated with a combination of disdain and suspicion (they MUST secretly want to get a man to support them, which means stealing a married man. Single women are excluded from lots of events in couple-oriented cities because they are assumed to be predators. I am not making this up. That mentality operates even in NYC suburbs. Single women are not welcome at dinner parties).

      1. John Zelnicker

        Yves — You’ve got all of that spot on. Down here in the Deep South (Mobile, Ala.) many of the same attitudes prevail. In fact, people, especially women, who are direct and intense are generally treated as pariahs and avoided like the plague. The only exception are women, usually elderly, who are wealthy enough to neither care for nor have any need for the approval of others. And their acceptance is mostly based on others wanting something from them such as charitable contributions.

        And a car is an absolute necessity.

  3. Banger

    This is a philosophical and moral issue and doesn’t lend itself well to the methods used in this article. Self-reporting is, first of all, deeply flawed when in the U.S., it is a social requirement to be “happy.” If you say you are not happy it means you are unsuccessful and your status is therefore lower–even if it is a lie it is more useful to just create certain objective measures that you are “happy.” Happiness and joy come in the moment and is, it seems to me, unmediated by economic situation. In the U.S. if you are rich you are happy because that is the goal of life for most Americans–so not to be happy even if you aren’t happy is not acceptable. If you are poor maybe you should be unhappy simply because that is your job–to be miserable as befitting your status.

    Often being “happy” is based on self-deception and systematic denial–that is often the case in rural areas.

    1. TheCatSaid

      Being closer to nature in a rural area can profoundly increase happiness. I would not call that systemic deprivation. It can be deeply meaningful to many, independent of financial circumstances.

      1. susan the other

        Plus there’s always the joy of masochism, like in Kansas. Sorry Kansans. Just a little kidding.

    1. MikeNY

      I think this is true. I think happiness is a paradox; the happiest people I have known have been those least focused on their own happiness. I think happiness usually comes from having a purpose or goal that you regard as greater than yourself.

  4. ep3

    surprise surprise, Detroit is a very unhappy city. I wonder how the southern population would like all those unhappy arab and black folks from detroit to move to georgia, where everything is so happy?
    And look at kentucky. Apparently being the meth capital of the country doesn’t make for a very happy population.

    1. Jeff

      Is the general population of Detroit unhappy because of the Arabs and blacks there?

      I would have thought it was because of the poor economy, lack of employment opportunities, failing infrastructure (parks, roads, etc.), and high crime. I’ve been there and those things were immediately obvious to me. I didn’t notice that a particular skin color or nationality of those around me affected my happiness.

    1. diptherio

      Bhutan forcibly ejected its ethnic Nepali population because they refused to wear the right clothes and speak the right language. That part, of course, never gets mentioned because organic gardening. Bhutan is a monarchy, and a rather repressive one if you don’t happen to agree with it’s proclamations, but they are doing agro-forestry, so it’s all good.

      1. Vatch

        Thanks for providing some context. I guess Orwell’s “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” could be modified to something like “All Himalayan people deserve happiness, but some Himalayan people are more deserving of happiness than others”, or something similarly disturbing.

  5. diptherio

    An exercise in absurdity from beginning to end, imho.

    A: Utility is not an actually existing thing, but rather a convenience for lazy thinking. I learned in my Econ courses that utility is measured in “utils”. How big is a “util” and what is it exactly? No one can say, but it’s very important for doing welfare-economics. Next time you buy a latte or take an afternoon to read a book, ask yourself “how many utils did I get from that?”…and then laugh at how f-ing absurd economics is. Whether happiness equals utility is a moot point because utility is a bogus concept.

    B: Happiness is obviously an insufficient term for what we should be trying to maximize, which is human fulfillment. Someone in a non-stop heroin intoxication is no doubt very happy. What we really seek is fulfillment, and we can get it in many ways.

    C: Quoting Kierkegaard, “Truth is Subjectivity.” The only reality is that which is experienced and experience is a necessarily subjective thing–therefore, truth equals subjectivity. Which makes sentences like this just laughable:

    It is possible to make people worse off while increasing their reported subjective wellbeing.

    The economist knows what really makes people better or worse off, and is the only one is a position to check a person’s subjective feelings against the objective reality…NOT. To call this condescending would be putting it mildly.

    I could go on, but you get the idea. The article, just like the mainstream of economics as a whole, sets off down entirely the wrong path, and so arrives at a useless destination. This kind of thinking gets us exactly nowhere. Enough with abstractions like “utility” and “welfare functions”–let’s start talking about reality realistically. This paper doesn’t move us in that direction at all, imo.

    1. voxhumana

      I have to agree with your assessment. Indeed, I could barely make it through the verbiage to glean an actual meaning to the article.

      What is happiness? I’ve seen other theories that measure it as expectations fulfilled. If so, then it seems to me that today’s “cynics” and “pessimists” (as named by the rose-colored glasses herd) are likely to be the happiest people around. If one begins each day with the massive (and required by the preachers of our “American Dream”) expectation that life is, in essence, good then it matters not what kind of smiling face they put on ( de rigueur ) as somewhere inside they must be terribly disappointed. On the other hand, if someone (the so-lableled cynic/pessimist) expects to discover more reasons each day for discontentment in the status quo, then those expectations are bound to be fulfilled measurably.

      My friends just can’t wrap their heads around the fact that being discontented with our global (and growing) dystopia gives me contentment, especially on forums like NC where I can express that discontentment to like-minded thinkers. They insist that I am unhappy because I express discontentment about the truth of our insane, hyper-militarized, utterly corrupt culture. Strange thing is, at the end of the day I sleep better than most of them. I don’t need xanax or diazepam because expressing my anxieties (rather than putting a happy face on them) helps to keep them at bay.

      Is it really even possible to be “happy” in an world gone mad? I think not. But one can be honest about it and feel pretty good about said honesty, whatever the burden of acknowledging the discord.

      I was lucky to enjoy a long and successful career as a classical musician, a baritone, who somehow managed to secure a space in that rigorous and dastardly world, especially as a solo recitalist (I sang a lot of opera too but was at my best when it was just me and a piano). I was always happiest when singing, when seeing the faces of the audience beaming or tearing up in response to some genius composer’s ability to transfer the emotions of the poetry chosen to be sound-tracked. But it was all so ephemeral and quite the ego trip. Soon after the music had stopped, the audience, and I as well, had to return to the real world. I didn’t care much for the business of my art, the agents and arts administrators who always wanted me to live their version of my life by asserting control over what I should and should not be singing, where I should be singing it and what fees I should be willing to accept by virtue of their “connections” with the venues to which I was “marketed.” And as I put more and more distance between myself and my “career” it drove those people nuts. Why wouldn’t I want to sing as much and as often – and for a lot of money – as possible?

      I don’t sing so much anymore, and I am happy with that.

      What is happiness?

      1. diptherio

        I can totally relate with what you say about your friends thinking that being critical of our society somehow entails depression or suffering of some kind. I’ve got one in particular, who is about a decade older than me, and seems convinced that I’m just an “angry young man”, and will eventually grow out of it. NPR and the BBC assure him that all is well, so I must just be deluded…and arrogant, frankly, to place myself in judgment of the society that has provided all the toys that we so love…arrogant and ungrateful. Every conversation we have about anything besides movies or boardgames ends up with him telling me “when you point your finger at someone else, your pointing three back at yourself.” That’s what John Michael Greer calls a “thought-stopper.” You’re not perfect, so who are you to criticize?

        Thankfully, he’s the outlier.

        As for music, one of my favorite things in high school and college was to watch a friend of mine sing bass in the choir. He’d be all solemn, waiting for his cue…and then when his part started the biggest grin ever would plaster itself all over his mug. He looked like the happiest person alive when he was singing, and it made me hella’ happy just to see him so happy.

        I indulge in the musical vice myself a fair bit, but mostly for my own benefit. I’ve performed for various groups, and people always seem to be impressed by my improvisations on my six-hole wooden flute, but mostly it’s my way to relax and to make my mind operate in a non-linguistic mode.

        I even invented an instrument recently, out of milk cartons, pen tubes and rubber-bands. I’ve been spending a lot of time plucking away at it recently, in private bliss.

        1. voxhumana

          thanks for the vote of confidence and am gratified to know you understand both the politics and the art we both indulge. and you made your own flute. that’s great! I played recorder for baroque ensemble in grad school but my vocal chords always worked better than my emboucher!

    2. lee

      I am reminded of Sartre’s pronouncement that we (the French resistance) were never so free as we were during the German occupation. Being engaged in opposition to what is can be quite fulfilling even though it is an expression of profound dissatisfaction, which is certainly a species of unhappiness.

      “We were never more free than during the German occupation. We had lost all our rights, beginning with the right to talk. Every day we were insulted to our faces and had to take it in silence. Under one pretext or another, as workers, Jews, or political prisoners, were deported en masse. Everywhere, on billboards, in the newspapers, on the screen, we encountered the revolting and insipid picture of ourselves that our suppressors wanted us to accept. And because of all this we were free. Because the Nazi venom seeped into our thoughts, every accurate thought was a conquest. Because an all-powerful police tried to force us to hold our tongues, every word took on the value of a declaration of principles. Because we were hunted down, everyone of our gestures had the weight of a solemn commitment . . .” (Quoted by Barrett, Irrational Man, p. 239 (paperback)

      1. diptherio

        Yes, it does seem that our highest nature only reveals itself in times of great distress. Food for thought, surely. Thanks for sharing that quote.

    3. Alex Tolley

      Thank you for stating that the emperor has no clothes regarding this “research”. Trying to put a single measure “happiness” on all the different attributes of mental well-being isn’t very helpful. It also assumes that “happiness” has little endogenous factors – like genetics. I’ve seen longitudinal surveys of happiness and they are remarkably constant despite economic conditions.

    4. jrs

      I guess I can appreciate some “meaning well” I guess in trying to maximize something other than GDP. But happiness is going to be maximized top down apparently without any of our say in the matter, so that it might deprive us of utility :). Well at least it’s a benevolent oligarchy, I’ll take it over the present one. Sold!

    5. The Heretic

      This is some nitpicking. Some Truth as experienced by a person is subjective, relative to that person. However, there is some Truth that is objective, and some Truth that is absolute. i.e. According to all scientific observations to date, Newton’s equations of motion applies to all objects both at the Macro level and Micro level…I don’t know if they have been confirmed at the quantum level, since Quantum Mechanics is weird. String Theory does’t count since that has no experimental observations whatsoever to verify its plausibilty…, (it should not have the word Theory in its name either)

  6. Frank de Libero

    A comment about the comments; I haven’t read the article yet, just a quick skim.

    My sense from the comments and at least implicitly, the Vox article, is there is confounding of happiness with meaningfulness. Meaningfulness is about being actively engaged in worthwhile projects. The go-to person, philosopher, on this is Susan Wolf and her “Meaning in Life and Why it Matters.” This idea goes back at least to Aristotle. Nussbaum’s essay, “Who is the Happy Warrior?” is another contemporary example besides Wolf’s.

    The BRFSS question, “In general, how satisfied are you with your life?”, itself confounds meaningfulness with happiness or well-being. A respondent could be thinking either in terms of happiness or meaningfulness and there’s no way to discern that from the survey results.

    Here’s a quick summary of differences between happiness (H) and meaningfulness (M):
    H is about taking; M is about giving.
    H is satisfying desires; desires doesn’t concern M.
    H is about now; M is concerned with the full time spectrum.
    M is about deep connections to others; not so much with H.
    H is associated with less stress; M with more stress.
    H is about getting what you want; M is about expressing and defining yourself.

    I’ve seen this confusion repeatedly so I’ll do a blog post on this in about a month, other posts already in the works. BTW, Susan Wolf has done an excellent job. Her dual lecture noted above is available on the web.

  7. craazyman

    I lived in Charlottesville for 4 years and if it’s anything like it used to be, people are drunk and stoned all the time laying around listening to music. Every once in a while you’d get laid too. It was never quite clear how that happened, though. Mostly it seemed to be an accident. All in all, that’s a happy life for sure.

    Nowdays the 10-bagger is the key to happiness. I frankly don’t care about utilities. They don’t go up that much and the dividends aren’t that big. You can’t get rich quick in utilities. If you get the 10-bagger you can buy any happiness you want. What’s not to like? There’s nothing about this that requires regression analysis or a professional economist. Once you have the 10-bagger you can fund any study you want that proves anything. At that point, when you’ve got the money, that might be the time to buy utilities.

    1. diptherio

      A 10-bagger? You’ve lowered your expectations…I remember when you were hot on the trail of a 100-bagger.

      By the bye, hope you held on to all those shorts you were moaning about a couple of months ago…bwaaahaahaa

      1. craazyman

        All I do is lose money. Stopped out twice in three days on sharp intra-day bounces. I’m not doing this right, that’s for sure. Well, fortunately it’s only nicks not cuts. I won’t risk the cuts, so it’s hard. You gotta get lucky and I’m not that lucky. Not yet anyway. LOL

        What you really need is a 10-bagger for some breathing room. Then if you lose half of it you’re still up by 5.

  8. Vatch

    Kansas appears to be the fifth or sixth saddest state on the map of the United States. I can’t avoid thinking that Koch Industries is headquartered in Wichita, Kansas.

  9. Roger B Houghton

    Many of the comments above have surprised me.

    For my penny’s worth, throw away Burke and Bentham and substitute Adam Smith and you have the basis of fairness necessary to ensure the happiness of the greatest number.

    Success is not simply a matter of wealth. Once a sufficiency has been reached, there are more rewarding and challenging things to do with one’s brief life than increasing the bank balance.

Comments are closed.