Happiness Around the World: The paradox of happy peasants and miserable millionaires

OUP Oxford
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For centuries the pursuit of happiness was the preserve of either the philosopher or the voluptuary and took second place to the basic need to survive on the one hand, and the pressure to conform to social conventions and morality on the other. More recently there is a burgeoning interest in the study of happiness, in the social sciences and in the media. Can we really answer the question what makes people happy? Is it really grounded in credible methods and data? Is there consistency in the determinants of happiness across countries and cultures? Are happiness levels innate to individuals or can policy and the environment make a difference? How is happiness affected by poverty? By economic progress? Is happiness a viable objective for policy? This book is an attempt to answer these questions, based on research on the determinants of happiness in countries around the world, ranging from Peru and Russia to the U.S. and Afghanistan. The book reviews the theory and concepts of happiness, explaining how these concepts underpin a line of research which is both an attempt to understand the determinants of happiness and a tool for understanding the effects of a host of phenomena on human well being. The research finds surprising consistency in the determinants of happiness across levels of development. Yet there is still much debate over the relationship between happiness and income. The book explores the effects of many mediating factors in that relationship, ranging from macroeconomic trends and democracy to inequality and crime. It also reviews what we know about happiness and health and how that relationship varies according to income levels and health status. It concludes by discussing the potential - and the potential pitfalls - of using happiness surveys to contribute to better public policy.
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About the author

Carol Graham is Senior Fellow and Charles Robinson Chair at the Brookings Institution and College Park Professor at the University of Maryland. She served as Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at Brookings from 2002-2004 and as a Special Advisor to the Deputy Managing Director of the IMF. She was a Special Adviser to the Executive Vice President of the Inter-American Development Bank while on a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellowship, and has consulted at a number of international financial institutions. Her research has received support from the Hewlett, Tinker, and MacArthur Foundations, as well as the Office of the Chief Economist of the World Bank. She is the author of numerous books and articles on poverty, inequality, and social welfare policy. Graham has an A.B. from Princeton University, an M.A. from The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a Ph.D. from Oxford University.
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Additional Information

Publisher
OUP Oxford
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Published on
Dec 17, 2009
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Pages
272
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ISBN
9780191609480
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Consumer Behavior
Business & Economics / Development / Economic Development
Philosophy / Political
Political Science / Public Policy / Social Policy
Political Science / Public Policy / Social Services & Welfare
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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In The Pursuit of Happiness, the latest addition to the Brookings FOCUS series, Carol Graham explores what we know about the determinants of happiness, across and within countries at different stages of development. She then takes a look at just what we can do with that new knowledge and clearly presents both the promise and the potential pitfalls of injecting the “economics of happiness” into public policymaking. This burgeoning field, largely a product of collaboration between economists and psychologists, is gaining great currency worldwide. One of a handful of pioneers to study this topic a mere decade ago, Graham is understandably excited about how far the concept has come and its possible utility in the future. The British, French, and Brazilian governments already have introduced happiness metrics into their benchmarks of national progress, and the U.S. government could follow suit. But “happiness” as a yardstick to help measure a nation’s well-being is still a relatively new approach, and many questions remain unanswered. The Pursuit of Happiness spotlights the innovative contributions of happiness research to the dismal science. But it also raises a cautionary note about the issues that still need to be addressed before policymakers can make best use of them. An effective definition of well-being that goes beyond measuring income—the Gross National Product approach—could very well lead to improved understanding of poverty and economic welfare. But the question remains: how best to measure and quantify happiness? While scholars have developed rigorous measures of well-being that can be included in our statistics—as the British are already doing—to what degree should we use such metrics to shape and evaluate policy, particularly in assessing development outcomes? Graham considers a number of unanswered questions, such as whether policy should be more concerned with increasing day-to-day contentment or with providing greater opportunity to build a fulfilling life. Other issues include whether we care more about the happiness of today’s citizens or that of future generations. Policies such as reducing our fiscal deficits or reforming our health care system, for example, typically require sacrificing current consumption and immediate well-being for better long-run outcomes. Another is whether policy should focus on reducing misery or raising general levels of well-being beyond their relatively high levels, in the same way that reducing poverty is only one choice among many objectives in our macroeconomic policy. Employing the new metrics without attention to these questions could produce mistakes that might undermine the long-term prospects for a truly meaningful economics of well-being. Despite this cautionary note, Graham points out that it is surely a positive development that some of our public attention is going to better understanding and enhancing the well-being of our citizens, rather than emphasizing the roots of their divide.
Winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics

Get ready to change the way you think about economics.

Nobel laureate Richard H. Thaler has spent his career studying the radical notion that the central agents in the economy are humans—predictable, error-prone individuals. Misbehaving is his arresting, frequently hilarious account of the struggle to bring an academic discipline back down to earth—and change the way we think about economics, ourselves, and our world.

Traditional economics assumes rational actors. Early in his research, Thaler realized these Spock-like automatons were nothing like real people. Whether buying a clock radio, selling basketball tickets, or applying for a mortgage, we all succumb to biases and make decisions that deviate from the standards of rationality assumed by economists. In other words, we misbehave. More importantly, our misbehavior has serious consequences. Dismissed at first by economists as an amusing sideshow, the study of human miscalculations and their effects on markets now drives efforts to make better decisions in our lives, our businesses, and our governments.

Coupling recent discoveries in human psychology with a practical understanding of incentives and market behavior, Thaler enlightens readers about how to make smarter decisions in an increasingly mystifying world. He reveals how behavioral economic analysis opens up new ways to look at everything from household finance to assigning faculty offices in a new building, to TV game shows, the NFL draft, and businesses like Uber.

Laced with antic stories of Thaler’s spirited battles with the bastions of traditional economic thinking, Misbehaving is a singular look into profound human foibles. When economics meets psychology, the implications for individuals, managers, and policy makers are both profound and entertaining.

Shortlisted for the Financial Times & McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award

In The Pursuit of Happiness, the latest addition to the Brookings FOCUS series, Carol Graham explores what we know about the determinants of happiness, across and within countries at different stages of development. She then takes a look at just what we can do with that new knowledge and clearly presents both the promise and the potential pitfalls of injecting the “economics of happiness” into public policymaking. This burgeoning field, largely a product of collaboration between economists and psychologists, is gaining great currency worldwide. One of a handful of pioneers to study this topic a mere decade ago, Graham is understandably excited about how far the concept has come and its possible utility in the future. The British, French, and Brazilian governments already have introduced happiness metrics into their benchmarks of national progress, and the U.S. government could follow suit. But “happiness” as a yardstick to help measure a nation’s well-being is still a relatively new approach, and many questions remain unanswered. The Pursuit of Happiness spotlights the innovative contributions of happiness research to the dismal science. But it also raises a cautionary note about the issues that still need to be addressed before policymakers can make best use of them. An effective definition of well-being that goes beyond measuring income—the Gross National Product approach—could very well lead to improved understanding of poverty and economic welfare. But the question remains: how best to measure and quantify happiness? While scholars have developed rigorous measures of well-being that can be included in our statistics—as the British are already doing—to what degree should we use such metrics to shape and evaluate policy, particularly in assessing development outcomes? Graham considers a number of unanswered questions, such as whether policy should be more concerned with increasing day-to-day contentment or with providing greater opportunity to build a fulfilling life. Other issues include whether we care more about the happiness of today’s citizens or that of future generations. Policies such as reducing our fiscal deficits or reforming our health care system, for example, typically require sacrificing current consumption and immediate well-being for better long-run outcomes. Another is whether policy should focus on reducing misery or raising general levels of well-being beyond their relatively high levels, in the same way that reducing poverty is only one choice among many objectives in our macroeconomic policy. Employing the new metrics without attention to these questions could produce mistakes that might undermine the long-term prospects for a truly meaningful economics of well-being. Despite this cautionary note, Graham points out that it is surely a positive development that some of our public attention is going to better understanding and enhancing the well-being of our citizens, rather than emphasizing the roots of their divide.
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