The Happy Economist: Happiness for the Hard-Headed

By Ross Gittins | Go to book overview

The science of happiness

There is, however, another factor contributing to the wave of interest in happiness that points in the direction of the phenomenon being more permanent. It’s that happiness—or ‘subjective wellbeing’, to give it its more academically respectable moniker—has become an object of considerable serious research by many social scientists, mainly psychologists, but also neuroscientists, economists and a few political scientists.

Many of the books on happiness—and, certainly, the most reliable—are written by these academic experts; most of the rest draw heavily on their findings. So when next you see the phrase, ‘the science of happiness’, don’t be dubious. The doyen of these researchers, and the man who pioneered the field almost singlehandedly, is Ed Diener, professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Building on the happiness research, and conferring on it greater academic respectability, is the relatively new ‘positive psychology’ movement, established at the instigation of Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, while he was president of the 160,000-member American Psychological Association. Martin observed that for the past half-century clinical psychology had been consumed by a single subject, mental illness, and argued that it needed as well to return to its earlier interest in nurturing talent and improving normal life. It should seek knowledge of what makes life worth living. As well as helping troubled people to raise their wellbeing from, say, minus eight to minus two, it should also help raise other people’s wellbeing from plus five to plus eight. So positive psychology is ‘the study of the conditions and processes that contribute to the flourishing or optimal functioning of people’. Sounds like a good idea to me.

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The Happy Economist: Happiness for the Hard-Headed
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction- Happiness and Economics 1
  • Part One - Micro Happiness 7
  • 1 - What Is Happiness? 9
  • 2 - Evolution and Happiness 22
  • 3 - Who Is Happy? 39
  • 4 - Money and Happiness 69
  • 5 - Work and Happiness 98
  • 6 - How to Be Happy 132
  • Part Two - Macro Happiness 159
  • 7 - What’s Wrong with Economics 161
  • 8 - The Economy and the Environment 195
  • 9 - Towards the Happy Society 218
  • Bibliography 242
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