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A Happiness Check

Oct 9, 2011 • Behavioral Economics, Economic Debates, Government, Households, Labor, Macroeconomic Measurement, Thinking Economically • 159 Views    No Comments

The jobs, income and wealth scene is a bit bleak. Unemployment has soared, many workers are earning less, the government owes a ton of money, the stock market has been down, up, and down again, housing prices have plummeted and 25% of us have lost more than half of our wealth.

And yet, we seem to feel okay.

Looking at close to a million Gallup replies on SWB (Self-reported Well-Being) between January 2008 and December 2010, a Princeton economist concludes that our “life evaluation” has almost returned to pre-Lehman Brothers bankruptcy 2008 levels. Data about each day’s emotions, though, reflect more of our joys, stresses and worries.

Should President Obama be happy about the Princeton study? Not necessarily. Here, an economist talks about the connection between election results and macroeconomic statistics.

One footnote: Gallup had to eliminate political questions from its survey because the mere mention of politics made respondents unhappy.

The Economic Lesson

Economists disagree about what matters to people when they decide how well off they are. Some say macroeconomic data like unemployment and GDP statistics affect our outlook. Others cite the impact of stock market data, even from people who own no securities. Economists also study the difference between “living life” and “thinking about life.” They point out that you can feel dismal about parts of your daily life and still perceive a bright future.

An Economic Question: Do you believe that well-being studies should affect economic policy? Explain.

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