Do People Seek to Maximize Happiness? Evidence from New Surveys

48 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2010  

Daniel J. Benjamin

USC, Center for Economic and Social Research (CESR); National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Ori Heffetz

Cornell University - S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management; Hebrew University of Jerusalem; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Miles S. Kimball

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Department of Economics; University of Colorado Boulder; Center for Economic and Social Research, USC; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Alex Rees-Jones

University of Pennsylvania - Operations & Information Management Department

Date Written: October 2010

Abstract

Are subjective well-being (SWB) measures a good empirical proxy for utility? We evaluate one necessary assumption: that people's preferences coincide with what they predict will maximize their SWB. Our method is to present survey respondents with hypothetical scenarios and elicit both choice and predicted SWB rankings of two alternatives. While choice and predicted SWB rankings usually coincide, we find systematic reversals. Furthermore, we identify factors--such as predicted sense of purpose, control over one's life, family happiness, and social status--that help explain choice controlling for predicted SWB. We explore how our findings vary with the SWB measure and the choice situation.

Suggested Citation

Benjamin, Daniel J. and Heffetz, Ori and Kimball, Miles S. and Rees-Jones, Alex, Do People Seek to Maximize Happiness? Evidence from New Surveys (October 2010). NBER Working Paper No. w16489. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1696401

Daniel J. Benjamin (Contact Author)

USC, Center for Economic and Social Research (CESR) ( email )

635 Downey Way
Los Angeles, CA 90089-3332
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Ori Heffetz

Cornell University - S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management ( email )

324 Sage Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Mount Scopus
Jerusalem, IL 91905
Israel

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.nber.org/~heffetz

Miles S. Kimball

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Department of Economics ( email )

611 Tappan Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1220
United States
734-764-2375 (Phone)
734-764-2769 (Fax)

University of Colorado Boulder ( email )

Campus Box 256
Boulder, CO 80309
United States
303.492.8295 (Phone)
303.492.8960 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.colorado.edu/Economics/people/faculty/kimball.html

Center for Economic and Social Research, USC ( email )

635 Downey Way
Los Angeles, CA 90089-3332
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Alex Rees-Jones

University of Pennsylvania - Operations & Information Management Department ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://opimweb.wharton.upenn.edu/profile/26948/

Paper statistics

Downloads
67
Rank
276,682
Abstract Views
1,495