Happiness and Life Satisfaction

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May 2017
Paper author(s): 
Esteban Ortiz-Ospina
Max Roser
History and Economics

How happy are people today? Were people happier in the past? How satisfied with their lives are people in different societies? And how do our living conditions affect all of this? These are difficult questions to answer; but they are questions that undoubtedly matter for each of us personally. Indeed, today, life satisfaction and happiness are central research areas in the social sciences, including in ‘mainstream’ economics. Social scientists often recommend that measures of subjective well-being should augment the usual measures of economic prosperity, such as GDP per capita. But how can happiness be measured? Are there reliable comparisons of happiness across time and space that can give as clues regarding what makes people declare themselves ‘happy’? In this entry, we discuss the data and empirical evidence that might answer these questions. Our focus here will be on survey-based measures of self-reported happiness and life satisfaction.


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