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The Science of Happiness for Policymakers: An Overview

posted Dec 27, 2013, 4:00 PM by Naomi Naghi   [ updated Feb 9, 2014, 1:53 AM by Sergiu Baltatescu ]

Dan Weijers1 Aaron Jarden

Journal of Social Research & Policy
Volume: 4, Issue: 2
, pp. 21-40
Date: December 2013
ISSN: 2067-2640 (print), 2068-9861 (electronic)

Abstract: Given the limitations of traditional economic indicators, several national governments and multinational organisations are investigating new measures of progress and well-being to inform policymaking, with some researchers (e.g., Layard, 2005; Diener & Seligman, 2004; Marks & Shah, 2004; Frey & Stutzer, 2002) calling for scientific measures of happiness to be among those investigated (Diener et al., 2009; Dolan & White, 2007; Stiglitz, Sen & Fitoussi, 2009). In this article, we review the literature relevant to the questions of whether and how the science of happiness should be used to inform policymaking. First, we provide a brief overview of the history, methods, and rationale behind happiness science and its use in public policy, and identify the most promising scientific methods for measuring happiness. Following this, several criticisms of these measures are discussed. The main criticisms addressed here include: that survey measures of happiness are too insensitive, that we cannot know what measures of happiness are measuring, and that the wrong kind of happiness is being measured. Lastly we provide recommendations for the role that suitably-improved measures of happiness could play in policymaking, and what steps would need to be undertaken to suitably improve these measures. We conclude that it would be appropriate for governments to measure happiness, and for civil servants to use those data to inform policymaking. However, much complex interdisciplinary and international research is required before it would be appropriate for the science for happiness to play such a role in policymaking.


Keywords: Well-Being; Wellbeing; Happiness; Subjective Well-Being; Public Policy; Science of Happiness.

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Naomi Naghi,
Feb 4, 2014, 12:36 PM