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Subjective Well-Being: When, and Why, it Matters

Erik Angner

Department of Philosophy, Stockholm University; Institute for Future Studies; Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science

August 31, 2012

The purpose of this paper is to give a principled answer to the question of under what conditions measures of happiness or life satisfaction, understood as subjectively experienced mental states, can serve as proxies for well-being. According to a widely held view, measures of happiness and life satisfaction represent well-being because happiness and life satisfaction are constitutive of well-being. This position, however, is untenable. Efforts to address this question in terms of Amartya Sen’s capability approach have been similarly unsuccessful. Instead, I argue, happiness and life satisfaction matter because, and insofar as, people want to be happy and/or satisfied; consequently, measures of happiness and life satisfaction can serve as measures of well-being whenever happiness is sufficiently correlated with or causally efficacious in bringing about greater preference satisfaction. While this position entails a less expansive view of the uses of happiness and life satisfaction measures, I maintain that if their proponents were to take this line, many of the objections to their enterprise can be met.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 28

Keywords: Happiness, Satisfaction, Welfare, Well-Being, Subjective Well-Being, Preferences

JEL Classification: B4, I3

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Date posted: October 5, 2012  

Suggested Citation

Angner, Erik, Subjective Well-Being: When, and Why, it Matters (August 31, 2012). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2157140 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2157140

Contact Information

Erik Angner (Contact Author)
Department of Philosophy, Stockholm University ( email )
Stockholm, 114 25
HOME PAGE: http://erikangner.com
Institute for Future Studies ( email )
Holländargatan 13
Stockholm, SE-101 31
HOME PAGE: http://www.iffs.se/en/research/affiliated-researchers/erik-angner-1/
Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science ( email )
400P Truland Building
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States
HOME PAGE: http://ices.gmu.edu/people/affiliated-faculty
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