Would You Choose to Be Happy? Tradeoffs between Happiness and the Other Dimensions of Life in a Large Population Survey

50 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2015

See all articles by Matthew D. Adler

Matthew D. Adler

Duke University School of Law

Paul Dolan

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)

Georgios Kavetsos

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)

Date Written: August 5, 2015

Abstract

A large literature documents the correlates and causes of subjective well-being, or happiness. But few studies have investigated whether people choose happiness. Is happiness all that people want from life, or are they willing to sacrifice it for other attributes, such as income and health? Tackling this question has largely been the preserve of philosophers. In this article, we find out just how much happiness matters to ordinary citizens. Our sample consists of nearly 13,000 members of the UK and US general populations. We ask them to choose between, and make judgments over, lives that are high (or low) in different types of happiness and low (or high) in income, physical health, family, career success, or education. We find that people by and large choose the life that is highest in happiness but health is by far the most important other concern, with considerable numbers of people choosing to be healthy rather than happy. We discuss some possible reasons for this preference.

Keywords: happiness, subjective well-being, SWB, life satisfaction, preference

Suggested Citation

Adler, Matthew D. and Dolan, Paul and Kavetsos, Georgios, Would You Choose to Be Happy? Tradeoffs between Happiness and the Other Dimensions of Life in a Large Population Survey (August 5, 2015). Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series No. 2015-35. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2640117 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2640117

Matthew D. Adler

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

Paul Dolan

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

Georgios Kavetsos (Contact Author)

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

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