July 11, 2004
Happiness = (# of Blog Readers * Average Coolness)/π
How can you not love economists? Eric Dash reports on a new study on money, sex, and happiness in the NYT:
A lasting marriage, by comparison, offers about $100,000 worth of happiness a year - that is, on average, a single person would need to receive $100,000 annually to be as happy as a married person with the same education, job status and other characteristics. Divorce, on the other hand, imposes an emotional toll of about $66,000 a year, though there may be a short-term economic gain from the immediate relief provided by leaving your spouse.
Of course, the enduring problem with studying happiness is this: “Happiness is notoriously difficult to define, and the surveys make no attempt to do so; the respondents simply record how happy they believe themselves to be on a sliding scale.”
I’m of two minds. One says, false consciousness be damned, if we can’t trust people to know what’s best for themselves, we’re screwed.
The other says, um, clearly people don’t know what’s best for themselves—e.g. cigarettes, cocaine, Tijuana Flats queso for lunch*, “What’s the Matter with Kansas,” etc.
*It’s just sooo cheesy and good…
Now, it’s possible that there are downward-shifting errors (irrational pessimism? the frump factor?) to match the upward-shifting errors of false consciousness (in the broadest, least-Marxist sense, here), and it all comes out in the wash.
But maybe we shouldn’t be asking people about their own happiness in the first place, and instead we should rely on a cocktail of more concrete measures, like the Human Development Index somehow brought down to individual scale. Health, both physical and psychological, would probably be the key metric.
Or perhaps it’s much simpler, and The Sims has it right:
no hunger + energy + empty bladder + hygiene + fun + nice surroundings = happiness