Subjective Well-Being: When, and Why, it Matters
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
Date posted: October 5, 2012