The Hedonistic Paradox: Is Homo Economicus Happier?

46 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2007

See all articles by James Konow

James Konow

Loyola Marymount University

Joseph Earley

Loyola Marymount University

Date Written: April 2007


The "Hedonistic Paradox" states that homo economicus, or someone who seeks happiness for him- or herself, will not find it, but the person who helps others will. This study examines two questions in connection with happiness and generosity. First, do more generous people, as identified in dictator experiments, report on average greater happiness, or subjective well-being (SWB), as measured by responses to various questionnaires? Second, if the answer is affirmative, what is the causal relationship between generosity and happiness? We find a favorable correlation between generosity and happiness (i.e., SWB is directly related to several measures of happiness and inversely related to unhappiness) and examine various possible explanations, including that material well-being causes both happiness and generosity. The evidence from this experiment, however, indicates that a tertiary personality variable, sometimes called psychological well-being, is the primary cause of both happiness and greater generosity. In contrast to field studies, the experimental method of this inquiry permits anonymity measures designed to minimize subject misrepresentation of intrinsic generosity (e.g., due to social approval motives) and of actual happiness (e.g., because of social desirability biases) and produces a rich data set with multiple measures of subjective, psychological and material well-being. The results of this and other studies raise the question of whether greater attention should be paid to the potential benefits (beyond solely the material ones) of policies that promote charitable donations, volunteerism, service education, and, more generally, community involvement, political action, and social institutions that foster psychological well-being.

Keywords: Happiness, Subjective well-being, Altruism, Psychological well-being, Eudaimonia

JEL Classification: C91, D64

Suggested Citation

Konow, James and Earley, Joseph, The Hedonistic Paradox: Is Homo Economicus Happier? (April 2007). Available at SSRN: or

James Konow (Contact Author)

Loyola Marymount University ( email )

Department of Economics
One LMU Drive, Suite 4200
Los Angeles, CA 90045
United States


Joseph Earley

Loyola Marymount University ( email )

7900 Loyola Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90045
United States

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