Can economics really measure happiness?

It seems like an odd question, but what is happiness and why is it important? Do you think happiness is the same for you as it is for others? Does the definition of happiness for economics match that of our own definition of happiness?

To begin, the definition of happiness from an economics perspective is the relationship between individual satisfaction and welfare such as wealth and employment. Meaning that the study relying on more expansive notions of utility and welfare, including interdependent utility functions, procedural utility, and the interaction between rational and non-rational influences in determining economic behavior. Economists measure happiness by using econometric and surveys analysis to identify what factors increase and or decrease human well-being as well as the quality of life. Econometrics is a technique used to test and develop theories through the usage of statistical and mathematical models data. Economics also uses surveys and these surveys are based on questions that ask individuals, things like “generally speaking, how happy are you with your life?” or “how satisfied are you with your life?”. These questions are based on a point scale of four to seven. Happiness to economics is more so focused on the fulfillment of basic necessities of life to increase one’s quality of life. However, if an individual were to explore their own meaning of happiness, they would probably focus on what being happy means to them. In fact, one non-economic definition of happiness is the feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment as well as the feeling of contentment and that life is as it should be. These fulfillment could include the little things that bring people joy such as painting, food, writing, photography, or a sport; sending quality time with family and friends; traveling or doing some voluntary work in their community; and or working at their dream job and making money. Happiness in a non-economic way is basically making an effort every day to explore what’s possible that renders one’s life to be meaningful and happy to bring a sense of fulfillment.

To further explore what happiness means to an individual versus in economics, I sat down and asked one of my closest friends what happiness means to them? Their response was that “Being happy to me is very interesting. I am able to find temporary happiness whether it is with my interest, food, family, and friends. Happiness is not something that can be obtained through how much money you have but that it comes from within. And most importantly, it is being content with the people and the things you have around you.”I personally thought that their response was unique in the sense that they find temporary happiness within things and that it is not driven by money. Their response also highlighted the notion of utility and individual satisfaction which is what economics asses when defining economic happiness. The beauty of asking what happiness is to someone is that someone else could have completely responded to this statement differently.  Overall, both individual definitions and the economic definition of happiness have overlapping themes.


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