Hedonomics I: Happiness Is Easy

Love. Sex. Space. Coke. (Coke?) Discretion. Indiscretion. Family. Fame. Privacy. Puppies. The Rolling Stones. One man’s happiness is, axiomatically, not another’s, and so the riddle of what brings us peace in ourselves and in our communities remains, Sphinx-like, perpetually fascinating—for novelists, perhaps not, but for other writers and, increasingly, for economists.

In her piece on policy and happiness in this week’s New Yorker, “Everybody Have Fun,” Elizabeth Kolbert outlines the ramifications for (what we call) happiness to the macro-economy. If French President Sarkozy hired Amartya Sen and Joseph Stieglitz to study the implications of a happy people for a thriving economy, perhaps we should listen to what they learned.


Kolbert concludes that our cities are not unlike ourselves, both in yearning for more as well as in fundamentally misunderstanding what Wanting More means. She writes:

If happiness research simply confirmed what people already believed, there would be no need, and really no reason, to argue for its relevance. It’s the counterintuitive cast of the results that makes the work provocative and “the politics of happiness” worth thinking about. As the studies make clear, the same sorts of mistakes that individuals are prone to are widely replicated on a national level. People place their hopes on higher incomes, countries on higher G.D.P., and both end up disappointed. (Indeed, according to Graham, rapid economic expansion is just as likely to reduce happiness as the reverse, a situation that she refers to as “the paradox of unhappy growth.”)

The idea that happiness research should at least be considered by policymakers is, increasingly, a mainstream position. Two years ago, the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, appointed a commission to look into ways to improve the measurement of government performance. When the commission, headed by Amartya Sen and another Nobel Prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, issued its final report, last fall, it was critical of the current reliance on G.D.P., which, it argued, is a poor proxy for social progress: “For example, traffic jams may increase G.D.P. as a result of the increased use of gasoline, but obviously not the quality of life.” The group recommended that a wide variety of new statistical tools be developed, including ones that measure income distribution, natural-resource depletion, and happiness.

“The counterintuitive cast of results.” Yes, plus this irony: that we cannot study to learn it; happiness is not a sport. It’s an emotion.

While we wait for the Nobel Laureates to tell us more, here are two of the greatest bands that ever played, in two of the greatest songs they ever wrote, both about happiness. Check them out here, and here (this one’s due for reissue in May), and see if you don’t feel a little bit...happier.

Big Think
Sponsored by Lumina Foundation

Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!

As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.

Keep reading Show less

Why Lil Dicky made this star-studded Earth Day music video

"Earth" features about 30 of the biggest names in entertainment.

Culture & Religion
  • Lil Dicky is a rapper and comedian who released his debut album in 2015.
  • His new music video, "Earth," features artists such as Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Ed Sheehan, Kevin Hart, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
  • All proceeds of the music video will go to environmental causes, Dicky said.
Keep reading Show less

After death, you’re aware that you’ve died, say scientists

Some evidence attributes a certain neurological phenomenon to a near death experience.

Credit: Petr Kratochvil. PublicDomainPictures.net.
Surprising Science

Time of death is considered when a person has gone into cardiac arrest. This is the cessation of the electrical impulse that drive the heartbeat. As a result, the heart locks up. The moment the heart stops is considered time of death. But does death overtake our mind immediately afterward or does it slowly creep in?

Keep reading Show less

Behold, the face of a Neolithic dog

He was a very good boy.

Image source: Historic Environment Scotland
Surprising Science
  • A forensic artist in Scotland has made a hyper realistic model of an ancient dog.
  • It was based on the skull of a dog dug up in Orkney, Scotland, which lived and died 4,000 years ago.
  • The model gives us a glimpse of some of the first dogs humans befriended.
Keep reading Show less