Are You Happy?

ARE YOU HAPPY?….Does a higher income make you happier? If I understand Daniel Kahneman correctly, the answer (according to a decade of research) is no. Higher income makes you more satisfied, but it doesn’t make you happier:

Over several years we asked substantial samples of women to reconstruct a day of their life in detail. They indicated the feelings they had experienced during each episode, and we computed a measure of experienced happiness: the average quality of affective experience during the day….This was the first of many such findings: income, marital status and education all influence experienced happiness less than satisfaction, and we could show that the difference is not a statistical artifact.

….Experienced happiness, we learned, depends mainly on personality and on the hedonic value of the activities to which people allocate their time. Life circumstances influence the allocation of time, and the hedonic outcome is often mixed: high-income women have more enjoyable activities than the poor, but they also spend more time engaged in work that they do not enjoy; married women spend less time alone, but more time doing tedious chores. Conditions that make people satisfied with their life do not necessarily make them happy.

Hmmm. This makes sense to me. I would say, for example, that I’m quite satisfied with my life — mainly because I can’t think of too many specific ways in which I could materially improve it. I have a job I like, a wife I love, a nice house, no money worries, etc. But am I happy? That’s a purely subjective measure that, in my experience, has only a modest correlation with my material satisfaction. Basically, I’m a big believer that above a certain income level, long-term subjective happiness is mostly (though of course not entirely) a function of brain chemistry.

If you’re looking for a political angle here, try answering this question: which candidate winning tonight would make you most satisfied? Which would make you happiest? Is there a difference?

Via Tyler Cowen.