Friday, March 5

Kahneman pokes holes in happiness research

Behavioural economics pioneer Daniel Kahneman is featured in a recent TED talk, in which he discusses problems with measuring happiness.

Economists are often criticized for only considering money matters, when there is in fact far more to life than dollars and cents. The profession's response to that criticism has been a new subdiscipline: the economics of happiness. While most economists are concerned with how policies affect people's wealth, happiness economics considers what affects people's happiness.

But the primary hurdle in studying happiness is that it isn't always easy to measure. It is usually straightforward to gather data on people's incomes and wealth, but it is much harder to find out how happy they are.

We can ask people about their happiness, but this assumes that individuals actually know how happy they are. This may seem trivial, but as Kahneman eloquently describes in his talk, it's actually not so simple. People have trouble figuring out how happy they really are.

Measuring happiness also assumes people are on the same page: if someone asks us to rate our happiness on a scale of 1 to 10 and we both say 7, that relies upon us having the same idea of what a 7-out-of-10 level of happiness looks like. Again, this may not be the case.

Kahneman, who won a Nobel Prize for his efforts, is an expert on this topic, so if you're interested in the subject matter, his lecture is well worth watching.