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

28 Pages Posted: 5 Oct 2012

See all articles by Erik Angner

Erik Angner

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

Date Written: 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.

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

JEL Classification: B4, I3

Suggested Citation

Angner, Erik, Subjective Well-Being: When, and Why, it Matters (August 31, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Erik Angner (Contact Author)

Department of Philosophy, Stockholm University ( email )

Universitetsvägen 10 D
Stockholm, 106 91


Institute for Futures Studies ( email )

Holländargatan 13
Stockholm, SE-101 31


Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science ( email )

400P Truland Building
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States


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