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Happiness around the world

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Happiness around the world

The paradox of happy peasants and miserable millionaires

Oxford UP,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

The Beatles sang, “Money can’t buy me love,” but can it buy happiness? And if it can, does it take credit cards?

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


Money can’t buy happiness, or so your parents used to say. But if money doesn’t make you joyful, what does? In her astute, rigorously researched book, public policy scholar Carol Graham evaluates the components of happiness across countries, socioeconomic groups and cultures to tease out what “well-being” means, at least statistically speaking. Using extensive surveys in Latin America, Central Asia and Afghanistan, and existing data on happiness in the developed world, Graham posits that, despite varying levels of wealth, people and nations share fundamentally similar characteristics when it comes to being content. She examines how happiness measures can guide policy makers and notes the pitfalls involved. Be prepared, though, to brush up on your statistics and get reacquainted with z-scores and Gini coefficients. The book relies heavily on statistical analysis and calculations, but Graham manages to surface from the data occasionally to provide conclusions in lay language. getAbstract finds her work of value to economists, psychologists, policy makers and all those who just want to get happy.


“Happiness Economics”

For centuries, great minds have tried to answer the question: “What makes people happy?” Today, economists are teaming up with psychologists to define and measure joy. They set out to determine if applying happiness measures to public policy and economics could improve life for people around the world. New “analytical and research tools” now enable an objective evaluation of a highly subjective topic, “the study of happiness.”

As the field of economics became increasingly analytical, it began to see earnings as a symbol for human welfare. The concept of “maximizing utility” (getting the most use from goods or services) came to depend on income measures, but money isn’t always the best indicator of what people want. For example, some people choose less remunerative work that is more satisfying and feel quite content. Modern happiness economics broadens the definition of “utility.” It measures social groupings, demographics, employment status, political environments, economic resources and the availability of public services to amass a comprehensive picture of what constitutes contentment in a country. These measurements facilitate global comparisons...

About the Author

Carol Graham, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a professor at the University of Maryland, served in advisory roles at the International Money Fund.

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