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The Objective Benefits of Subjective Well-Being

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The aim of this paper is to survey the “hard” evidence on the effects of subjective well-being. In doing so, we complement the evidence on the determinants of well-being by showing that human well-being also affects outcomes of interest such as health, income, and social behavior. Generally, we observe a dynamic relationship between happiness and other important aspects of our lives, with influence running in both directions.
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The Objective Benefits of Subjective Well-Being
*
Jan-Emmanuel De Neve
University College London and Centre for Economic Performance (LSE)
Ed Diener
University of Illinois and The Gallup Organization
Louis Tay
Purdue University
Cody Xuereb
Centre for Economic Performance (LSE)
6 August 2013
De Neve, J.-E., Diener, E., Tay, L., & Xuereb, C. (2013) The objective benefits of
subjective well-being. In Helliwell, J., Layard, R., & Sachs, J., eds. World Happiness
Report 2013. New York: UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
*
Corresponding author: Jan-Emmanuel De Neve (email: j.de-neve@lse.ac.uk). The authors thank Claire
Bulger, John Helliwell, and Richard Layard for very helpful comments and guidance. This article was
prepared, in part, as a contribution to the research undertaken for the forthcoming New Development
Paradigm (NDP) report of the Royal Government of Bhutan. Financial support from the LSE Centre for
Economic Performance, Emirates Competitiveness Council, Earth Institute (Columbia University), UK
Department for Work and Pensions, and National Institute on Aging/NIH Grant RO1-AG040640 is
gratefully acknowledged.
2
I. Introduction
The aim of this paper is to survey the “hard” evidence on the effects of subjective
well-being. In doing so, we complement the evidence on the determinants of well-being
by showing that human well-being also affects outcomes of interest such as health,
income, and social behavior. Generally, we observe a dynamic relationship between
happiness and other important aspects of our lives, with influence running in both
directions.
Although happiness is considered here as a means rather than an end in itself
we do not imply that normative arguments for raising well-being are insufficient to make
the case for well-being. However, a better understanding of the objective benefits of
raising happiness may also help to put happiness more center-stage in policy-making and
to refine policy evaluation.
In the following sections we review the growing literature on the objective benefits
of happiness across the major life domains categorized into (i) health & longevity; (ii)
income, productivity, & organizational behavior; and (iii) individual & social behavior.
Scientific research increasingly points to specific ways in which happiness generates
tangible benefits. The experience of well-being encourages individuals to pursue goals that
are capacity-building to meet future challenges. At the physiological level, positive
emotions have been found to improve immune, cardiovascular, and endocrine functioning.
In contrast, negative emotions are detrimental to these processes. Table 1 below
summarizes and categorizes the literature on the effects of subjective well-being.
Although high subjective well-being tends to help people function better, it is of
course not a cure-all. Happy people do get sick and do lose friends. Not all happy people
are productive workers. Happiness is like any other factor that aids health and functioning;
with all other things being equal, it is likely (but not guaranteed) to help. It is important to
emphasize that research does not prescribe extreme bliss but, rather, tentative evidence
suggests that a moderate degree of happiness tends to be “optimal” for the effects
surveyed in this paper.
Before concluding this paper we also discuss how happiness may lead to better life
outcomes and what its role may be in human evolution. There is initial evidence about the
processes that mediate between happiness and its beneficial outcomes. For instance,
positive feelings bolster the immune system and lead to fewer cardiovascular problems,
whereas anxiety and depression are linked to poorer health behaviors and problematical
physiological indicators such as inflammation. Thus, a causal impact of happiness on
health and longevity can be understood with the mediating mechanisms that are now being
uncovered. Research in the field of neuroscience provides further prospects for new
scientific insights on mediating pathways between happiness and traits or outcomes of
interest.
It naturally follows from this survey that it is important to balance economic
measures of societal progress with measures of subjective well-being and to ensure that
economic progress leads to broad improvements across life domains, not just greater
economic capacity. Given the tangible benefits to individuals and societies of moderately
high well-being, it is ever more urgent that we act to effectively put well-being at the heart
of policy and generate the conditions that allow everyone to flourish.
Table 1: Summary of the objective benefits of subjective wellbeing
!
Benefits(
Evidence!
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Adversity*and*stress* in*childhood*is*associated* with*higher*inflammation* later*in*
life.
1
**
Positive* emotions* help* cardiovascular,* immune* and* endocrine* systems,
2
*
including *heart*rate*v a ria b ility.
3
*Evidence*suggests*a*causal*link*between*positive*
feelings* and* reduced* inflammatory,* cardiovascular* and* neuroendocrine*
problems.
4
*
Positive* affect* is* associated* w ith* lower* rates* of* stroke* and* heart* disease* and*
susceptibility*to*viral*infection.
5
*
High* subjective* wellDbeing* is* linked* to* healthier* eating,* likelihood* of* smo kin g ,*
exercise,*and*weight.
6
*
Positive* emotions* can* undo* harmful* physiological* effects* by* speeding* up*
recovery.
7
**
Happier*individuals*tend*to*live*longer*and*have*a*lower*risk*of*mortality,*even*
after*controlling*for*relevant*factors.
8
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Individua ls* with* induced* positive* emotions* were* more* productive* in* an*
experimental*setting.
9
'
Happy*workers*were*more*likely*to*be*rated*highly*by*supervisors*and*in*terms*
of*financial*performance.
10
'
Happiness*can*increase*curiosity,*creativity,*and*motivation*among*employees.
11
'
Happy* individuals* are* more* likely* to* engage* collaboratively* and* cooperatively*
during*negotiations.
12
'
WellDbeing* is* positively* associated* with* individual* earnings.
13
*Longitudinal*
evidence*suggests*that*happiness*at*one*point*in*time*pr ed ic ts*future*earnings ,*
even*after*controlling*for*confounding*factors.
14
'
Greater* satisfaction* among* employees* tends* to* predict* organizationDlevel*
productivity*and*performance,*e.g.*revenue,*sales*and*profits.
15
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In*experiments,* in d ivid u a ls* with*higher* wellDbeing*and*positive*affect*are*more*
willing* to* forego* a* smaller* benefit* in* the* moment* in* order* to* obtain* a* larger*
4
Reduced'consumption'&'
increas e d 's a v in g s'
Employment'
Reduced'riskCtaking'
ProCsocial'behavior'(e.g.,'
donating'money'and'
volunteering)'
Sociability,'social'relationships'&'
networks'
benefit* in* the* future.
16
*Happier* individuals* m ay* be* better* able* to* purse* longD
term* goals* despite* short Dte rm * costs* due* to * a* greater* a b ility* to * delay*
gratification.
17
'
Longitudinal* studies* find* evidence* that* happier* individuals* tend* to* spend* less*
and* save* more,* take* m ore* time* when* making* decisions* and* have* higher*
perceived*life*expectancies.
18
'
Survey* evidence* shows* the* probability* of* reDemployment* within* on e* year* is*
higher*among*individuals*who*are*happier.
19
'
The* prevalence* of* seatDbelt* usage* and* the* likelihood* of* being* involved* in* an*
automobile* accident* were* both* linked* to* life* satisfaction* in* a* survey* of* over*
300,000*US*households.
20
'
Individua ls* who* report* h ig h e r* subjective * wellDbeing*donate*more* time,*money,*
and*blood*to*others.
21
'
WellDbeing* increases* interest* in* social* activities* leading* to* more* and* higher*
quality* interac tio n s.
22
*Positive* moods* also* lead* to * m o re * en ga g ement* in* socia l*
activities.
23
*The* happinessDsocial* interaction* link* is* found* across* d ifferent*
cultures*and*can*lead*to*the*transmission*of*happiness*across*social*networks.
24
(
Note: Further detail on each study cited in the table is included in the relevant sections of this paper.
II. Benefits of happiness
i. Happiness on health and longevity
There are many factors that influence health, such as having strong social
support, and practicing good health behaviors, such as exercising and not smoking.
Although being happy is only one of those factors, it is an important one. This is
because higher levels of subjective well-being can both directly and indirectly
influence health. Below we review the up-to-date research on whether happy people
experience better health.
25
Happiness and unhappiness have been directly associated with physiological
processes underlying health and disease. For example, Kubzansky and colleagues find
that adversity and stress in childhood predict elevated markers of inflammation a few
years later.
26
And chronic inflammation that occurs over years can harm the
cardiovascular system. Cohen et al. (2003) found that positive emotions were
associated with stronger immune system responses to infection. Bhattacharyya et al.
(2008) found that positive feelings were associated with healthier levels of heart rate
variability. Negative emotions harm cardiovascular, immune, and endocrine systems
in humans, whereas positive emotions appear to help them.
27
Levels of subjective
well-being influence health, with positive levels helping health and negative levels
harming it. Through an accumulation of studies, we are beginning to understand not
just that subjective well-being influences health, but how this occurs.
Because subjective well-being influences physiological processes underlying
health and disease, it is predictive of lower rates of cardiovascular disease and quicker
recovery. For example, positive affect is associated with lower rates of strokes in
senior citizens.
28
Davidson et al. (2010) found in a prospective longitudinal study that
those without positive feelings were at a higher risk for heart disease than those with
some positive feelings, who in turn had higher levels of heart disease than those with
moderate positive feelings. Stress can even hinder wound healing after an injury.
29
One indirect route from happiness to health is that individuals who are high in
subjective well-being are more likely to practice good health behaviors and practices.
Blanchflower et al. (2012) found that happier individuals have a healthier diet, eating
more fruits and vegetables. Ashton and Stepney (1982) reported that neurotic
individuals, people who are prone to more stress, are more likely to smoke. Pettay
(2008) found that college students high in life satisfaction were more likely to be a
healthy weight, exercise, and eat healthy foods. Schneider et al. (2009) found that
happier adolescents, as assessed by brain scans of the left prefrontal area, showed a
more positive response to moderate exercise. Garg et al. (2007) found that people put
in a sad mood as part of an experiment were more likely to eat tasty but fattening
foods, such as buttered popcorn, rather than a healthy fruit.
Using a large sample representative of the USA, Strine and her colleagues
(2008a & b) found that depressed individuals are more likely to be obese and twice as
likely to smoke, and parallel results were found for those with very high in anxiety.
Lack of exercise was associated with depression, and excessive drinking of alcohol
was associated with anxiety. Grant et al. (2009) found, in a large sample across 21
nations, that higher life satisfaction was associated across regions with a greater
6
likelihood of exercising and a lower likelihood of smoking. Kubzansky et al. (2012)
found that distressed adolescents are more likely to be overweight. Thus, not only is
there a direct biological path from happiness to healthier bodily systems, but
unhappiness is also associated with destructive behaviors that can exacerbate health
problems.
Another indirect effect of happiness, as will be described more fully in a next
section, is that higher happiness can lead to more positive and fulfilling social
relationships. And having these relationships promotes health.
30
For instance, the
experience of prolonged stress can lead to poor health, but the presence of supportive
friends and family can help individuals during this time. In contrast, lonely
individuals experience worse health .
31
An important concern with these research findings is that healthier people may
be happier because of their good health, and not the other way around. While this may
be true for some reported findings, scientific studies also show support for a causal
link going from happiness to health. Research findings have established a link from
happiness to better physiological functioning. Ong (2010) and Steptoe et al. (2009)
review various possible explanations for the effects of positive feelings on health.
Steptoe et al. (2005) found among middle-aged men and women that those high in
positive feelings had reduced inflammatory, cardiovascular, and neuroendocrine
problems. For instance, happiness was associated with a lower ambulatory heart rate
and with lower cortisol output across the day. Similarly, Rasmussen et al. (2009)
found that optimism predicted future health outcomes such as mortality, immune
function, and cancer outcomes, controlling for factors such as demographics, health,
and negative feelings. Boehm and her colleagues found that optimism and positive
emotions protect against cardiovascular disease and also predict slower disease
progression.
32
They discovered that those with positive moods were more often
engaged in positive health behaviors, such as exercising and eating a nutritious diet.
Furthermore, positive feelings were associated with beneficial biological markers,
such as lower blood fat and blood pressure, and a healthier body mass index. These
associations held even controlling for level of negative moods.
Another piece of evidence supporting happiness causing good health is that
positive emotions can undo the ill-effects of negative emotions on health. Negative
emotions generate increased cardiovascular activity and redistribute blood flow to
specific skeletal muscles. It has been shown that positive emotions can undo harmful
physiological effects by speeding physiological recovery to desirable levels.
33
Diener and Chan (2011) reviewed eight types of evidence that point to a
causal connection going from subjective well-being to health and longevity. They
reviewed longitudinal studies with adults, animal experiments, experiments in which
participants' moods are manipulated and biomarkers are assessed, natural quasi-
experiments, and studies in which moods and biomarkers are tracked together over
time in natural settings. Diener and Chan (2011) concluded that the evidence
overwhelmingly points to positive feelings being causally related to health.
Happiness on average leads not only to better health, but also to a longer life.
Danner et al. (2001) found that happier nuns lived about 10 years longer than their
less happy colleagues. Because the nuns all had similar diets, housing, and living
7
conditions, and the happiness measure was collected at a very early age many decades
before death (at age 22 on average), the study suggests a causal relation between
positive moods and longevity. In another study, Pressman and Cohen (2012) found
that psychologists who used aroused positive words (e.g., lively, vigorous) in their
autobiographies lived longer. In a longitudinal study of individuals 40 years old and
older, Wiest et al. (2011) found that both life satisfaction and positive feelings
predicted mortality, controlling for socio-economic status variables. Conversely, Russ
et al. (2012) reviewed 10 cohort studies and found that psychological distress
predicted all-cause mortality, as well as cardiovascular and cancer deaths. Russ et al.
found that even mild levels of psychological distress led to increased risk of mortality,
controlling for a number of possible confounding factors. Whereas risk of death from
cardiovascular diseases or external causes, such as accidents, was significant even at
lower levels of distress, cancer death was only related to high levels of distress. Bush
et al. (2001) found that even mild depression increased the risk of mortality after
people had experienced a heart attack.
A systematic review by Chida and Steptoe (2008) on happiness and future
mortality in longitudinal studies showed that happiness lowered the risk of mortality
in both healthy and diseased populations, even when initial health and other factors
were controlled. Moreover, the experience of positive emotions predicted mortality
over and above negative emotions, showing that the effects of subjective well-being
go beyond the absence of negativity. Therefore, not only do negative emotions predict
mortality, but positive emotions predict longevity. One reason this may be so, besides
the toll that cardiovascular and immune diseases take on unhappy people, is that stress
might lead to more rapid ageing. Epel et al. (2004) found shorter telomeres (the
endcaps protecting DNA) in women who had significant stress in their lives. Because
DNA must replicate with fidelity for an individual to remain healthy over the decades
of life, and because the telomeres protect our DNA during replication, the reduction
of telomeres due to stress leads to more rapid aging when a person chronically
experiences unhappiness.
In a large representative sample of elderly people in the UK, Steptoe and
Wardle (2011) found that higher levels of positive affect were significantly associated
with a higher probability of survival in the five years following the survey. The study
divided respondents into three groups based on the positive affect they reported over a
24-hour period and then compared their mortality rates over a five-year period
following the survey. Mortality rates among respondents in the highest positive affect
group were reduced by 35% on average relative to those in the lowest positive affect
group. This rate was robust even when controlling for demographic factors as well as
health behaviors, self-reported health, and other conditions. Those in the high and
medium positive affect groups had death rates of 3.6% and 4.6%, respectively,
compared to 7.3% for the low positive affect group. Figure 1 below shows the
differences in survival rates among the three groups in the follow-up period.
8
Figure 1: Proportion of individuals surviving by level of positive affect in an
analysis of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing
High-Positive Affect group
Medium-Positive Affect group
Low-Positive Affect group
Notes: Figure from Steptoe and Wardle (2011). “Survival from affect assessment” is measured in
months from initial interview where positive affect levels where reported. The English Longitudinal
Survey of Ageing is a representative sample of older men and women living in England. Positive affect
reported on a single day by individuals between 52 and 79 years old were used. Values are adjusted for
age and sex. Respondents with the highest third of reported positive affect were 34% less likely to die
over the period studied than those in the lowest positive affect group after controlling for demographic
and health factors. Those in the high and medium positive affect groups had death rates of 3.6% and
4.6%, respectively, compared to 7.3% for the low positive affect group.
Primate studies also point to happiness affecting longevity. Weiss et al. (2011)
found that orangutans who were rated as happier by their caretakers lived longer.
Indeed, the difference between the apes that were one standard-deviation above
versus below the mean in happiness was 11 years. Because these apes often live about
50 years in captivity, happiness accounted for a very large increase in longevity.
Research on the role of happiness in human evolution (a topic explored in
more depth below) finds a relationship between well-being and successful
reproduction. A recent review by Diener et al. (2012) highlighted the evidence linking
positive mood to the frequency of sexual intercourse and fertility. For example,
Rasmussen et al. (2009) found that pregnant women who were more optimistic tended
to miscarry less frequently and have babies of a healthy weight.
9
The positive benefits of subjective well-being on health at the individual level
generalize to more aggregate levels. Lawless and Lucas (2011) found that places with
higher life satisfaction had greater life expectancies, with lower levels of mortality
from heart disease, homicide, liver disease, diabetes, and cancer. Similarly,
Blanchflower and Oswald (2008) found that higher levels of national well-being were
related to lower levels of national hypertension in a sample of 16 nations.
Blanchflower and Oswald (2008) also found that regions in the United Kingdom
reporting more stress also had higher rates of blood pressure. Moum (1996) found that
low subjective well-being is both a short- and long-term predictor of suicide, and
uncovered similar findings in a 20-year study. Across 32 nations, it was found that
experiencing higher life satisfaction and happiness was related to lower suicide
rates.
34
These findings suggest that links between happiness and health outcomes are
not simply relative in nature as they persist in aggregate and cross-national studies.
Happiness can therefore influence health outcomes for both individual citizens and
entire societies.
There is also evidence that negative affect can worsen health, even making
illness more likely. For example, depressed people are substantially more likely to
have cardiovascular problems, such as heart disease and strokes. Rugulies (2000)
found in a review of 11 studies that depressed feelings predict coronary heart disease
and that clinical levels of depression predict even more strongly. Similarly, when a
person is angry and hostile they are more likely to suffer from coronary heart
disease.
35
Depression is associated with unhealthy physiological processes, such as
inflammation,
36
which is believed to be connected to the development of heart
diseases. Antidepressant medications can lower inflammation. A review by Zorrilla et
al. (2001) found that stress is related to a weaker immune system. Studies on fertility
provide yet more evidence on how negative emotions can be detrimental to healthy
functioning. Fertility is lower among depressed women.
37
An unhappy pregnancy is
more likely to lead to a premature and low birth weight child.
38
However, as
discussed above, the effect of negative affect is not a mirror image of that observed
for positive affect. In a study of susceptibility to developing a cold, Cohen et al (2003)
found that individuals with positive emotional styles had greater resistance to the
virus when controlling for other factors, whereas negative emotions were not
associated with resistance. This suggests that positive and negative affect may impact
on health through different pathways but further study is needed to understand this
interaction.
ii. Happiness on income, productivity, and organizational behavior
The experience of happiness is beneficial to workplace success because it
promotes workplace productivity, creativity, and cooperation. There are several
reasons why this is the case. The experience of positive feelings motivates people to
succeed at work and to persist with efforts to attain their goals. As discussed above,
individuals who are happier are more likely to be healthy and will, in turn, tend to be
more productive (in part, simply because happier and healthier individuals will take
fewer sick days). In addition, individuals who are happier better integrate information
leading to new ideas, which leads to creativity and innovation. Finally, individuals
who are happier tend to have better social relations. In the context of work this leads
to greater cooperation among coworkers and with customers.
10
Oswald et al. (2012) investigated how positive feelings influence productivity
in an experimental setting. In an experiment involving piece-rate pay for research
participants across a number of days, the economists found that those who were put in
a positive mood had a greater quantity of work output (about 10-12%), but no less
quality of output. Those performing the task at low and medium levels of productivity
were helped most by being put in a good mood. As part of that same research, Oswald
et al. (2012) also found that a bad mood induced by family illness or bereavement had
a detrimental impact on productivity.
Employees who are high in subjective well-being are more likely to achieve
more while at work. Peterson et al. (2011) found that happy workers optimistic and
hopeful, resilient and high in self-efficacy – were more likely to be high in supervisor-
rated performance and in financial performance. Conversely, whereas positive
feelings reduce absenteeism from work, negative feelings increase absenteeism as
well as turnover.
39
Happiness has also been shown to enhance curiosity and creativity. Foremost,
positive feelings are associated with curiosity and creativity.
40
Leitzel (2001) found
that happy people are more likely to feel energetic and interested in doing things, as
well as scoring higher on measures of curiosity. Further, there is a large experimental
research literature showing that people put in a good mood tend to be more original,
creative, and show greater cognitive flexibility.
41
Both Amabile et al (2005) and
George and Zhou (2007) found that workers are more creative when they experience
positive moods. Indeed, two recent meta-analyses of experimental and non-
experimental studies showed that although the strength of effects depend on the
context and motivational focus, happiness is related to and generates creativity.
42
A major reason for the success of happy individuals and organizations is that
they experience on average more positive social relationships. Research clearly shows
that happy workers are more cooperative and collaborative in negotiations than
unhappy ones. In general, positive emotions boost cooperative and collaborative
behavior in negotiations rather than withdrawal or competition.
43
Individuals who are
in a positive mood are more willing to make concessions during negotiations.
44
Through cooperation, they reach a better joint solution in negotiations.
45
Individuals
in a positive mood are more likely to make cooperative choices in a prisoner’s
dilemma game as well.
46
People in a positive mood are also more likely to show
cohesion with their group. Recent experimental studies have shown that positive
emotions lead to trust and cooperation when specific conditions are met.
47
Overall,
happiness leads to cooperation and collaboration in the workplace, particularly so in
situations involving negotiation.
On the other hand, negative emotions in the workplace, especially chronic or
intense ones, can be very detrimental to the organization. For example, Felps et al.
(2006) found that a single negative individual in a work unit often brings down the
morale and functioning of the entire group.
One indicator of the subjective well-being of employees is job satisfaction.
48
A quantitative review found that job satisfaction is a key predictor of job
performance, showing that happy employees are better performers in their
11
workplace.
49
To establish a causal relation, a meta-analysis of panel data
demonstrated that job satisfaction predicted future performance, but performance did
not predict future job satisfaction.
50
Erdogan et al. (2012) reviewed the research
showing that individuals with higher life satisfaction are more likely to have higher
levels of career satisfaction, lower turnover intentions, and higher organizational
commitment.
In line with the notion that happier workers are better workers, higher well-
being is also shown to be associated with higher income
51
and future income.
52
De
Neve & Oswald (2012) used a large US representative panel study to show that
adolescents and young adults who report higher life satisfaction or positive affect
grew up to earn significantly higher levels of income later in life. They used siblings
as comparison controls, and also accounted for factors such as intelligence and health,
as well as the human capacity to imagine later socioeconomic outcomes and
anticipate the resulting feelings in current well-being (see Figure 2 below). Thus, to
date, four longitudinal studies have systematically found that happiness at one point in
time predicts higher future income, controlling for relevant factors such as
intelligence, parental income, and even a sizable part of any genetic predispositions.
53
Figure 2: Longitudinal relationship between subjective well-being during
adolescence and young adulthood (ages 16, 18 and 22) and later earnings (at age
29)
Notes: Figure from De Neve & Oswald (2012). The bars represent the response categories for positive
affect (at ages 16 and 18) and life satisfaction (at age 22), from lowest to highest levels, and relate this
to the mean income for the respondents in each category at age 29. Across the sample, the mean
income at age 29 was $34,632. Large samples were observed for each category (N=14,867 for positive
affect at age 16, N=11,253 for positive affect at age 18 and N=12,415 for life satisfaction at age 22). A
margin of error (i.e. 2 Standard Errors) is included around each estimate.
Subjective well-being brings about greater success at the organizational level
as well. Bockerman and Ilmakunnas (2012) found that job satisfaction predicts the
productivity of manufacturing plants. Harter et al. (2010) found in a longitudinal
study of 10 large organizations that worker engagement makes a difference to
productivity. Work units in which employees were satisfied and otherwise felt highly
engaged with their work led to improvements in the bottom line, measured in terms of
income. The effect sizes of the well-being measures remain rel-
atively stable between Table 1 (full panel) and Tabl e 2 (sibling
pan el). The lower signicance levels in Table 2 are presumably
due to the reduced number of observations in the sibling panel as
well as having accounted for family xed effects.
Tables S7 and S8 present results for an individual xed-effects
model and a Granger causality analysis that use the available
information on earnings in 2001 (age 22). Both model speci-
cations obtain highly signicant results for the effect of lagged
subjective well-being on earnings. However, we do not lend these
results full credence, given that earnings at age 22 may not yet ac-
curately represent individual income and also because these panel
data allow for only one time interval, and the exogeneity assumption
necessary for panel data models is unlikely to be satised.
If income is indeed endogenous to happiness, it becomes im-
portant to study how happiness comes to inuence a persons
income. Table 3 presents results for our investigation into po-
tential mediating pathways. These univariate SobelGoodman
Table 1. Earnings equations: Linear regression models of log income at age 29 (2008) on lagged
subjective well-being and covariates
Independent variable
Model 1 Model 2 Model 3 Model 4
Coeff. P value Coeff. P value Coeff. P value Coeff. P value
Positive affect (1994) 0.033 0.002 0.014 0.314
Positive affect (1996) 0.044 0.000 0.030 0.037
Life satisfaction (2001) 0.051 0.000 0.047 0.000
Positive affect (2008) 0.092 0.000 0.089 0.000 0.086 0.000 0.074 0.000
Male 0.149 0.000 0.146 0.000 0.147 0.000 0.145 0.000
Age 0.089 0.000 0.084 0.000 0.088 0.000 0.085 0.000
College 0.210 0.000 0.216 0.000 0.212 0.000 0.201 0.000
IQ 0.038 0.001 0.037 0.004 0.043 0.000 0.030 0.022
Medication 0.013 0.174 0.013 0.253 0.013 0.197 0.014 0.211
Height 0.036 0.008 0.039 0.011 0.035 0.011 0.037 0.016
Self-esteem (1994) 0.057 0.000 0.041 0.003
Self-esteem (1996) 0.044 0.001 0.015 0.306
Self-esteem (2001) 0.054 0.000 0.030 0.017
Black 0.068 0.000 0.064 0.000 0.063 0.000 0.065 0.000
Hispanic 0.056 0.000 0.065 0.000 0.051 0.000 0.064 0.000
Asian 0.062 0.000 0.063 0.000 0.061 0.010 0.064 0.000
Intercept 10.15 0.000 10.14 0.000 10.15 0.000 10.14 0.000
N 11,080 8,620 11,086 8,585
R
2
0.12 0.12 0.13 0.13
Variable coefcients (Coeff.) are standardized, and P values are presented. Variable denitions are in
Table S2.
Fig. 1. The longitudinal relationship between subjective we ll-being (at ages 16, 18, and 22) and later earnings (at age 29). Response categories for positive
affect (at ages 16 and 18) and life satisfaction (at age 22) are presented in relationship with their respective mean income levels at about age 29. Mean income
across the sample is $34,632 at age 29. N = 14,867 for positive affect at age 16, N = 11,253 for positive affect at age 18, and N = 12,415 for life satisfaction at
age 22. The original positive affect variable categories are reshaped to a 5-point scale for ease of comparison. Error bars (2 SEs) are shown.
De Neve and Oswald PNAS
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vol. 109
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no. 49
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19955
ECONOMIC
SCIENCES
12
revenue, sales, and profit.
54
On the other hand, reverse causality going from company
success to employee satisfaction was weaker. An analysis of the “100 Best
Companies to Work For in America” revealed that they increased more in equity
value compared to the industry benchmarks. The resulting higher returns were about
3% per year.
The study by Harter and his colleagues (2010), based on 2,178 work units in
10 large companies, found that engaged and satisfied workers led to greater revenue,
sales, and profits. The two factors that mediated the relation between employee
engagement and the performance outcomes were customer loyalty and employee
retention. It makes intuitive sense that customers would prefer to interact with
positive employees and thus frequent the business. Employee retention is a large
challenge for modern companies both because it is expensive to replace employees,
especially highly skilled ones, and because more senior employees have more
experience on the job. Thus, it is not surprising that employee engagement, resulting
in customer loyalty and employee retention, accounted for 10% of the variability in
the productivity of the corporations studied.
iii. Happiness on individual and social behavior
Subjective well-being has an impact on individual behavior and decision-
making. Happiness and positive affect have been identified as determinants of
economic behavior ranging from consumption and savings to time preferences and
risk-taking. Research in psychology and economics suggests this may occur through
improved integration of information and broadened focus of attention in happier
individuals.
55
Thus, happier individuals may be better able to evaluate the
implications of decisions with short and long term trade-offs, resulting in decisions
that reflect greater self-control and appropriate risk-taking.
Well-being can influence how individuals evaluate outcomes that may occur
in the present or future – a concept known in economics as time preference, or
discounting. In survey and experimental evidence, Ifcher and Zarghamee (2011a)
found that subjective well-being and positive affect were associated with less
preference for consumption in the present relative to the future. Using a randomized
assignment experiment, they observed that among the group where greater positive
affect was induced, participants were less likely to discount future payments, i.e. they
were more likely to give up a smaller payment in the current period to receive a larger
payment at a later point in time. This implies that individuals with greater positive
affect may be more able to exercise self-control or delay gratification (i.e. foregoing
smaller short term benefits in order to receive greater benefits in the future or to avoid
longer term costs). Happy individuals are motivated to pursue long-term goals despite
short-term costs.
56
Fry (1975) found that children placed in a happy mood better
resisted temptation. Additionally, Lerner and Weber (2012) found in lab experiments
that inducing sadness among participants led to a greater discounting of future
rewards than those in a neutral state. Moreover, lack of self-control is also related to
over-consumption, obesity, and financial decisions, suggesting that changes in well-
being may influence their prevalence.
57
Greater self-control and longer-term time preferences among happier people
13
have been linked to consumption and saving behavior. Guven (2012) analyzed two
representative longitudinal household surveys in the Netherlands and Germany to
estimate the causal relationship (if any) between happiness and consumption and
saving behaviors. The regression results found that happier people were more likely to
save more and consume less than others. Further, happier people had different
expectations about the future than those less happy. These individuals were more
optimistic about the future, took more time when making decisions, and had higher
perceived life expectancies (i.e. moving from “neither happy or unhappy” to “happy”
was associated with 1.1 year increase in perceived life expectancy).
58
Thus, happier
individuals may be more forward-thinking and willing to consider the long-term
implications of decisions taken in the present, leading to “better” decisions for
themselves and society.
The probability of being re-employed has also been linked to individual
happiness. Among individuals recently entering unemployment in Germany, Krause
(2012) found a statistically significant positive relationship between job seekers with
higher than average well-being and the probability of re-employment within a year.
Additionally, these individuals were more likely to enter into self-employment,
suggesting a link between happiness and entrepreneurship. Interestingly, the effect of
happiness on re-employment decreased at the extremes, indicating that an “optimal”
level of happiness may exist.
Research on individual risk-taking provides evidence of a relationship
between happiness and risk-related behavior. According to economic theory, happier
individuals have more to lose from engaging in risky behavior that may carry the risk
of injury or death. Happier individuals should therefore be more willing to engage in
activities that reduce risk. Goudie et al. (forthcoming) found that seatbelt use and not
being involved in a motor vehicle accident were both more likely among those with
higher subjective well-being (see Figure 3 with respect to seatbelt use). In a
representative sample of 313,354 US households, the authors estimated that
individuals who reported being “very satisfied” with life were 5.3% more likely to
always wear a seatbelt in the survey, even after controlling for potentially
confounding factors. When Goudie et al. (forthcoming) looked at the probability of
motor vehicle accidents, they found that individuals with higher levels of life
satisfaction were less likely to be involved in an accident several years later
59
. While
these statistical analyses cannot fully rule out the possibility of reverse causality, the
results are robust to including a number of confounding variables and provide strong
evidence for a positive relationship between happiness and risk-avoiding behavior.
14
Figure 3: Frequency of seatbelt use by subjective well-being in a US
representative sample
Notes: Figure from Goudie et al. (forthcoming). Data is from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance
System, a random-digit telephone survey in the US, N=313,354. Pearson’s chi-squared statistic =
3,242, p-value < 2.2 x 10
-16
. Cross-tabulation figures indicate that subjective well-being and seatbelt
use are strongly correlated but this does not account for other factors that may explain this relationship.
Goudie et al. (2013) use regression analysis to control for other potentially confounding factors and
find the association is robust to these controls. Individuals who report they are “very satisfied” with life
are 5.3% more likely to state they always wear a seatbelt. The authors also find that subjective well-
being at the time of the survey is statistically significantly associated with a lower probability of having
a motor vehicle accident several years later (even after controlling for confounding factors).
Research studies also indicate a powerful link between high subjective well-
being and social behavior, such as being a better friend, colleague, neighbor, and
citizen. People who are in a positive mood see others more inclusively and
sympathetically. For example, they are less biased against other ethnic groups.
60
Nelson (2009) found that people in a positive mood induction condition, as compared
to neutral and negative mood conditions, showed greater compassion, perspective
taking, and sympathy for a person experiencing distress.
Individuals who report high subjective well-being give more to their
communities in both time and money. Morrison et al. (2012) found that both life
satisfaction and positive feelings predicted reports of donating money to charity,
helping a stranger, and volunteering activities. Oishi et al. (2007) found that happier
people volunteer more. Aknin et al. (2013) found in a study of 136 countries that
prosocial uses of money by happy people generalized across regions of the world.
However, further research is underway to clarify the causal relationship between
prosocial spending and happiness. Priller and Shupp (2011) found slightly higher
rates of blood donation, as well as monetary giving to charity, among happier
individuals. They also found that those who were satisfied with their incomes were
more likely to donate money to worthy causes.
Do happy moods cause the helping behavior and good citizenship? It is a
consistent finding in social psychology experiments that when people are induced into
a good mood, by various means, they are more likely to help others.
61
These
experimental studies in which people who are put into a good mood and compared to
those in a neutral mood leave little doubt that happier feelings generally tend to
increase helping. The fact that people give both more time and money when they are
put into a positive mood in an experiment indicates that being happy raises prosocial
Proportion of individuals
Increasing SWB
Very satisfied
Satisfied
Dissatisfied
Very Dissatisfied
0.0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.8 0.9 1.0
Always Nearly always Sometimes Seldom Never
Seatbelt use:
Sample size n = 3295
n = 13524
n = 152021
n = 144514
FIGURE 1
FREQUENCY OF SEATBELT USE CROSS-TABULATED BY SUBJECTIVE WELL-BEING (SWB).
EAC H C ATEG O RY C ONTAINS AT LEA S T 101 INDIVIDUALS.PEARSONSCHI-SQUARED
STATISTIC IS 3242 (P-VA LUE p < 2.2 10
16
).
25
15
behavior.
62
Aknin et al. (2012) suggest that the relation between mood and helping is
circular as shown in Figure 4. When people are in a good mood they tend to help
others; helping others in turn fosters a good mood. Thus, friends, family, neighbors,
and the society as a whole tend to profit from happy people because these individuals
are more likely to be helpful to others.
Figure 4: Model of positive feedback loop between prosocial spending and
happiness
Notes: Figure from Aknin, Dunn and Norton (2012). The model posits that prosocial spending
promotes happiness and, in turn, happiness improves the probability of future prosocial spending.
Having supportive relationships boosts subjective well-being, but having high
subjective well-being in turn leads to better social relationships.
63
Thus, good
relationships both cause happiness and are caused by it. Two major reasons why
happiness benefits social relationships are because happiness increases a person’s
level of sociability and also improves the quality of social interactions. Happier
people have a larger quantity and better quality of friendships and family
relationships.
64
Frequent positive emotions create a tendency in people to be more sociable. In
a laboratory experiment people placed in a positive mood expressed greater interest in
social and prosocial activities compared to those in a neutral condition, whereas those
placed in a negative mood indicated lower interest in social activities.
65
This pattern
was replicated in a second study that found an interest in social and prosocial
activities among those in a good mood. People who were placed in a good mood
expected social activities to be more rewarding than those not placed in a good mood.
Similarly, other experimental studies have demonstrated that inducing happiness, in
contrast to sadness, makes people more likely to express liking for others they meet
for the first time.
66
On the other hand, the absence of positive feelings is accompanied
by feeling bored, unsociable, uninterested in things, slowed down, and unenergetic,
reflecting a lack of active involvement with the environment and other people.
67
It has
also been shown that depressed individuals cause others to react in a negative
manner.
68
This can lead to unwillingness to have future interactions with those who
have low happiness.
The links between positive moods and sociability are not just in terms of
feeling sociable, but translate into actual behavior. Cunningham (1988a) discovered
that people in an induced positive mood condition compared to a negative mood
2 Method
Fifty-one individuals (51% female, M
age
= 20.3) on the University of British Columbia
campus were asked to recall and describe in as much detail as possible the last time they
spent either $20 or $100 on either themselves or someone else. That is, participants were
randomly assigned to one of four recall conditions in a 2 (spending amount: $20 vs. $100)
9 2 (purchase target: self vs. someone else) design. Recall instructions were designed to
elicit vivid reminiscence and modeled on those used by Strack et al. (1985). After
describing this memory, participants reported their happiness on the Subjective Happiness
Scale (a = .86; Lyubomirsky and Lepper 1999 ).
Next, participants were offered a choice between two monetary windfall amounts ($5
vs. $20) and two different ways to spend this money. These four spending options were
selected to map on to the conditions used in previous research (Dunn et al. 2008), enabling
comparison across studies. Consistent with this previous research, participants were told
they could spend the money on (1) a bill, expense, or gift for themselves (personal
spending) or (2) on a gift for someone else or donation to charity (prosocial spending).
Participants were told that they should choose whichever option would make them the
happiest and that once their decision was made, they would receive the appropriate amount
of money with a reminder of the spending guidelines. Importantly, this procedure was
conducted in an anonymous fashion to mitigate social desirability concerns by giving
participants cue cards labeled A, B, C, or D on one side with a condition description on the
other side (Fig. 2). Participants were informed that all research assistants were unaware of
which condition assignment corresponded to each letter, so the research assistants would
never know which spending experience they had selected. Participants were given several
minutes to read the spending descriptions on the cue cards and choose their spending
experience. After deciding, participants informed the research assistant of their choice
using the appropriate letter (A, B, C, or D) and then received an envelope with the windfall
amount and a spending direction reminder.
1
Fig. 1 Model of positive
feedback loop between prosocial
spending and happiness. Recalled
acts of prosocial spending lead to
higher levels of happiness.
Happiness, in turn, increases the
likelihood of engaging in future
acts of prosocial spending
1
Although this procedure was carefully designed to minimize social desirability concerns, it is conceivable
that some participants who selected the prosocial spending option actually intended to spend the money on
themselves. This possibility is unlikely given that previous work has shown that the majority of participants
are quite willing to express a preference for spending money on themselves, even when social desirability
concerns are higher (Dunn et al. 2008). In addition, research suggests that making an initial commitment to
engage in prosocial behavior does lead to longer term prosocial behaviour (Nelson and Norton 2005).
Happiness Runs in a Circular Motion 349
123
16
condition were more talkative. Mehl et al. (2010) monitored people's everyday
conversations for four days and assessed happiness through both self-reports and
informant reports. They found that happy participants spent about 25% less time alone
and about 70% more time talking when they were with others. Furthermore, the happy
participants engaged in less small talk and more substantive conversations compared
to their unhappy peers.
Recent evidence shows the happiness-relationship link occurs across cultures.
Lucas et al. (2000) found that across the world positive feelings were associated with
tendencies for affiliation, dominance, venturesomeness, and social interaction.
Similarly, a world survey of 123 nations found that the experience of positive feelings
was strongly related to good social relationships across different socio-cultural
regions.
69
Happy people are not just more sociable; they also experience higher-quality
social relationships. Kazdin et al. (1982) found that children put in a positive mood
showed greater social skills and confidence in social behavior than those not put in a
good mood. Boehm and Lyubomirsky (2008) reviewed evidence showing that happy
people tend to be more popular and likable. One study showed that reports of better
interaction quality were not merely a function of the happy person’s perceptions, but
that observers similarly rated happier individuals as having better interactions with
strangers.
70
Happiness has the potential to generate positive snowball effects in society.
Research has shown that people who are happier are likely to bring happiness to those
around them, resulting in networks of happier individuals. It was found that happiness
extends up to three degrees of separation, and longitudinal models show that
individuals who are surrounded by happy people are likely to become happier in the
future.
71
Happiness can also have effects on the long-term quality of relationships.
Luhmann et al. (2013) found that unmarried people high in life satisfaction are more
likely to get married in the following years and less likely to get separated or divorced
if they get married. Conversely, Stutzer and Frey (2006) found low life satisfaction
prior to courtship predicted later dissolution of the marriage.
Depression, which is characterized by low or absent positive feelings, creates
problems in social relationships such as divorce, limited social support, and distancing
from one’s neighbors.
72
Even minor depression results in problems in social relations,
such as higher rates of divorce.
73
Even those recovering from depression show
impairments in the social and occupational domains.
74
In addition, clinical depression
interferes with executive functioning, which is a hallmark of human’s special adaptive
abilities. For example, Fossati et al. (2002) review evidence indicating that depressed
individuals suffer deficits in problem solving and planning. Snyder (2012) reviewed
extensive evidence showing that depressed people suffer substantially from broad
impairments in executive functions, such as planning, with strong effect sizes varying
from 0.32 to 0.97.
In sum, there is substantial evidence connecting positive moods to higher
sociability and better quality of social relationships, and the opposite is the case for
17
negative moods and depression. Happier people enjoy the company of others, and
find that interacting with people is more rewarding compared to less happy
individuals. Others in turn enjoy interacting with happy individuals. Those high in
subjective well-being thus have more rewarding and stable social relationships.
III. Moderation, mediation, and the evolutionary role of happiness
Although happy people and societies have a number of advantages, this does
not imply that high subjective well-being is a panacea for everything. To illustrate,
happiness can facilitate good health but is not a guarantee of it. Happy individuals
may die at a young age. However, on average they will live longer. We can make
statements about the effects of average happiness using the notion of ceteris paribus
(i.e. assuming “all other things being equal”) because in particular cases there will be
other factors that override the influence of high subjective well-being.
Not every study has found positive benefits for long-term happiness. A few
studies find no differences between happier and less happy individuals, and the rare
study has shown opposite effects. This is common in research because of sampling,
methodology, and other differences between studies. Nonetheless, reviews that
summarize results across studies have virtually always shown benefits for high
subjective well-being. One reason for the few null findings is that happiness will not
show its value in all samples and contexts. For instance, for young adults there might
be no differences in health or longevity due to happiness because young adults very
rarely die and mostly have healthy bodies. The results of happiness and unhappiness
become more manifest as adults age. Similarly, one would not be surprised if
happiness did not reduce divorce in a nation where divorce is virtually nonexistent.
Another caution about the conclusion that happiness is desirable is that people
do not need to be constantly euphoric or ecstatic. Happy people most of the time feel
merely pleasant – a mild positive state. Only occasionally do happy people feel
intensely positive. Oishi et al. (2007) found that although the happiest individuals did
very well in social relationships, the moderately happy not 100% satisfied often
did the best in achievement domains. There is evidence that frequent high-arousal
emotions could be harmful to health.
75
Krause (2012) shows that re-employment
prospects actually decreased for those with extreme levels of happiness. Furthermore,
in a randomized lab experiment, Ifcher and Zarghamee (2011b) found that positive
affect increased overconfidence among participants in the treatment group. Thus,
extremely high happiness is not a recipe for extremely effective functioning, and in
fact, moderate happiness can be more helpful.
It is important to note that happy people also occasionally feel unhappy, and
this is not necessarily undesirable. Gruber et al. (2011) and Forgas (2007), as well as
others, have shown that in some situations negative emotions can help people to
respond more effectively. Thus, happiness does not mean a complete absence of
negative feelings. The happy person, however, does not feel chronic negative
feelings; he or she experiences negative feelings only occasionally, not frequently,
and in appropriate situations.
18
An important question that is receiving increasing attention is how well-being
and positive emotions may influence life outcomes. This is an emerging area of
research with important contributions from psychology and neuroscience. The
pathways leading from happiness to the life outcomes discussed in this paper can
either be direct or be subject to moderation and/or mediation by other variables that
influence the effect that subjective well-being may have on a trait or outcome of
interest. Our discussion here is mostly on mediating pathways that may carry some
part of the influence of happiness onto the outcome of interest and thus help explain
the relationship. One branch of thinking in psychology posits that positive emotions
broaden cognitive capacity and attention, allowing individuals to engage in the
behaviors and build the skills associated with better health, productivity, and social
interaction.
76
Evidence from lab experiments provides initial backing for this theory.
For example, Fredrickson and Branigan (2005) found that participants where positive
emotions were induced showed greater scope of cognition and attention in
psychological tests.
Studies focusing on neurological processes also support this approach and
provide evidence for a connection between well-being and brain structure.
Experiments using brain imaging to monitor participants’ neurological processes have
reported that positive affect is associated with activity in a part of the brain that is
associated with “exploratory modes of thought and behavior.”
77
Further, Schmitz et
al. (2009) found that affect can also alter neurological processing of visual stimuli
specifically, positive affect led to a widening of individuals’ field of vision. Small-
scale trials of the effect of mindfulness training, a type of meditation that has been
linked to improved well-being in psychological studies, have also been shown to
increase grey matter in parts of the brain that are believed to regulate cognition and
emotion.
78
Happiness may therefore be linked to neurological and cognitive processes
that influence human behavior and particularly to behaviors that require broader and
more integrative thinking (e.g. considering benefits over a longer time period or
helping others).
In a promising new development in the study of mediating pathways between
subjective well-being and health outcomes, Fredrickson and colleagues (2013)
provide preliminary evidence for different epigenetic dynamics as a result of varying
levels and types of happiness. The authors find that varied states of well-being
influence gene expression with particular relevance to genotypes underlying the
immune system. Although the study is small-scale and is mostly interested in the
epigenetic effects of different types of well-being (hedonic and eudaimonic well-
being) it opens a promising new direction in the study of how happiness may
influence health outcomes.
In their study of happiness in young adulthood and earnings later in life, De
Neve & Oswald (2012) shed light on the potential pathways between happiness and
income in a longitudinal survey. Their mediation tests reveal a direct effect as well as
indirect effects that carry the influence from happiness to income. Significant
mediating pathways include obtaining a college degree and a job, higher degrees of
optimism and extraversion, and less neuroticism.
79
Given the increasing evidence for a strong connection between happiness and
behavior, a handful of studies have started to investigate the role of well-being in
19
human evolution. Happiness is argued to play a role in promoting evolutionary
success in two possible ways: (1) the experience of happiness acts as a reward for
behaviors that increase the likelihood of evolutionary success (e.g. survival,
reproduction, resource accumulation, etc.); or, alternatively, (2) given that happiness
is beneficial to survival and other important life outcomes (such as those discussed
throughout this paper), it has persisted as an evolutionary characteristic.
Happiness as a reward mechanism for evolutionarily-advantageous behaviors
has been explored in psychological and neurological research. A review of laboratory
experiments by Wise (2004) highlighted the critical role dopamine plays in the
neurological learning processes that embed how the brain anticipates reward and
prompts action to obtain this reward. For example, Wise (2004) discusses a study
where mice whose dopamine production is impaired are less able to undertake
previously learned tasks to receive a reward (e.g. pressing a certain lever to receive
food). Psychologists have argued elsewhere that positive affect and dopamine levels
are connected.
80
They hypothesize that the positive affect feedback from goal-directed
behavior and the associated dopamine production are crucial to understanding how
humans “learn” what behaviors and habits promote evolutionary success. This fits
with other evolutionary theories that suggest the pursuit and experience of happiness
incentivizes and increases the probability of successfully engaging in behaviors that
improve health, productivity, and reproduction.
81
Diener et al. (forthcoming) find that in a globally representative sample, 70%
of respondents reported enjoying much of the previous day.
82
The fact that happiness
is a relatively common human trait can be considered indicative of its important role
in evolutionary fitness. The authors also review the evidence that “positive mood
offset,” or the presence of positive mood in a neutral state, is associated with
characteristics, such as longevity, material and social resource accumulation, and
fertility, that have allowed humans to propagate successfully.
IV. Conclusion
Existing scientific evidence indicates that subjective well-being has an
objective impact across a broad range of behavioral traits and life outcomes, and does
not simply follow from them. In fact, we observe the existence of a dynamic
relationship between happiness and other important aspects of our lives with effects
running in both directions. Experimental research in which moods and emotions are
induced in some participants and their actions are compared to a control group show
that positive moods lead to creativity, sociability, altruism, and beneficial
physiological patterns. Levels of subjective well-being are found to predict future
health, mortality, productivity, and income, controlling statistically for other possible
determinants. For example, young people who are less happy many years before they
meet their future spouse later show higher rates of divorce compared to their happier
peers. Furthermore, predictions in the other direction, from conditions to subjective
well-being (that is, conditions influencing happiness) are also positive, helping to
create feedback loops that may raise the longer-term happiness effects.
Although high subjective well-being tends to help people function better, it is
of course not magic or a cure-all. Happy people do get sick and do lose friends. Not
all happy people are productive workers. Happiness is like any other factor that aids
20
health and functioning—all other things being equal it is likely (but not guaranteed) to
help. Needless to say that many other factors such as personality, intelligence, and
social capital are also important for good functioning.
It is important to emphasize that research does not prescribe extreme bliss but,
rather, tentative evidence suggests that a moderate degree of happiness tends to be
“optimal” for the effects surveyed in this paper. Thus, a desirable level of happiness
would imply feeling mildly to moderately positive most of the time, with occasional
negative emotions in appropriate situations.
There is initial evidence about the processes that mediate between happiness
and beneficial outcomes. For instance, happiness is associated with greater
cooperation, motivation, and creativity, which in turn are instrumental to success in
business, and in life as a whole. Conversely, depression creates problems, such as
illness and quitting one’s job more frequently, that all lead to less success in the
workplace. Similarly, positive feelings harness the immune system and lead to fewer
cardiovascular problems, whereas anxiety and depression are linked to poorer health
behaviors and problematical physiological indicators, such as inflammation. Thus, a
causal mechanism of happiness on health and longevity can be understood with the
mediating mechanisms that are now being uncovered. Research in the field of
neuroscience provides further prospects for new scientific insights on mediating
pathways between happiness to behavioral traits and socio-economic outcomes of
interest.
It naturally follows from this survey that it is important to balance economic
measures of societal progress with measures of subjective well-being, to ensure that
economic progress leads to broad improvements across life domains, not just greater
economic capacity. By assessing subjective well-being as well as economic variables,
a society can gauge whether overall net progress is positive in terms of raising human
well-being. Diener et al. (2009) detail the case for national accounts of well-being.
Most arguments for putting happiness more center-stage in policy-making have been
normative in nature; happiness is what would appear to matter most to most people.
The aim of this paper is to complement and inform the normative reasoning with a
survey of the “hard” evidence on the benefits of subjective well-being across
outcomes of importance, such as health, income, and social behavior. A better
understanding of the objective benefits of raising happiness may help in estimating
the potential impact of making happiness more central in policy-making and in
enhancing policy evaluation by informing cost-benefit analyses. Indeed, an argument
could be constructed that raising subjective well-being leads to positive externalities
or spillover effects across a number of policy domains, ranging from health to traffic
safety. Given the tangible benefits to individuals and societies of moderately high
well-being, it is imperative that we act to effectively put well-being at the heart of
policy and generate the conditions that allow everyone to flourish.
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1
Appleton et al. (2011); Slopen et al. (2012).
2
Edwards & Cooper (1988); Kiecolt-Glaser, McGuire, Robles, & Glaser (2002); Cohen, Doyle,
Turner, Alper, & Skoner (2003).
3
Bhattacharyya, Whitehead, Rakhit, & Steptoe (2008).
4
Ong (2010); Steptoe, Wardle, & Marmot (2005); Steptoe, Dockray, & Wardle (2009).
5
Ostir, Markides, Peek, & Goodwin (2001); Davidson, Mostofsky, & Whang (2010); Cohen et al.
(2003).
6
Blanchflower, Oswald, & Stewart-Brown (2012); Stepney (1982); Pettay (2008); Schneider, Graham,
Grant, King, & Cooper (2009); Garg, Wansink, & Inman (2007); Strine et al. (2008a, 2008b); Grant,
Wardle, & Steptoe (2009); Kubzansky, Gilthorpe, & Goodman (2012).
7
Fredrickson (2001); Fredrickson & Levenson (1998); Fredrickson, Mancuso, Branigan, & Tugade
(2000).
8
Danner, Snowdon, & Friesen (2001); Pressman & Cohen (2012); Wiest, Schuz, Webster, & Wurm
(2011); Russ et al. (2012); Bush et al. (2001); Chida & Steptoe (2008); Epel et al. (2004); Steptoe &
Wardle (2011).
9
Oswald, Proto, & Sgroi (2012).
10
Peterson, Luthans, Avolio, Walumbwa, & Zhang (2011).
11
Ashby, Valentin, & Turken (2002); Jovanovic & Brdaric (2012); Leitzel (2001); Isen, Daubman, &
Nowicki (1987); Amabile, Barsade, Mueller, & Staw (2005); George & Zhou (2007); Baas, De Dreu,
& Nijstad (2008); Davis (2009).
12
Baron, Fortin, Frei, Hauver, & Shack (1990); Barsade (2002); Carnevale (2008); Forgas (1998);
Baron (1990); Baron, Rea, & Daniels (1992); Carnevale & Isen (1986); Lawler, Thye, & Yoon (2000);
Hertel, Neuhof, Theuer, & Kerr (2000); Lount (2010).
13
Judge, Piccolo, Podsakoff, Shaw, & Rich (2010); Diener, Nickerson, Lucas, & Sandvik (2002);
Graham, Eggers, & Sandip (2004); Marks & Fleming (1999).
14
De Neve & Oswald (2012).
34
15
Bockerman & Ilmakunnas (2012); Harter, Schmidt, Asplund, Killham, & Agrawal (2010); Edmans
(2011, 2012).
16
Ifcher & Zarghamee (2011a).
17
Aspinwall (1998); Fry (1975).
18
Guven (2009).
19
Krause (2012).
20
Goudie, Mukherjee, De Neve, Oswald, & Wu (forthcoming).
21
Morrison, Tay, & Diener (2012); Oishi, Diener, & Lucas (2007); Aknin et al. (2013).
22
Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener (2005); Myers (2000); Diener & Seligman (2002); Cunningham
(1988b); Baron (1987, 1990); Berry & Hansen (1996).
23
Cunningham (1988b); Mehl, Vazire, Holleran, & Clark (2010).
24
Lucas, Diener, Grob, Suh, & Shao (2000); Tay & Diener (2011); Fowler & Christakis (2008).
25
Chida & Steptoe (2008); Cohen & Pressman (2006); Diener & Chan (2011); Howell, Kern, &
Lyubomirsky (2007); Lyubomirsky et al. (2005); Pressman & Cohen (2005).
26
Appleton et al. (2011); Slopen et al. (2012).
27
Edwards & Cooper (1988); Kiecolt-Glaser et al. (2002).
28
Ostir et al. (2001).
29
Christian, Graham, Padgett, Glaser, & Kiecolt-Glaser (2006).
30
Tay & Diener (2011).
31
Cacioppo & Patrick (2008).
32
Boehm & Kubzansky (2012); Boehm, Peterson, Kivimaki, & Kubzansky (2011).
33
Fredrickson et al. (2000); Fredrickson (1998).
34
Bray & Gunnell (2006).
35
Smith, Glazer, Ruiz, & Gallo (2004).
36
Dinan (2009).
37
Gotz, Martin, & Volker (2008); Neggers, Goldenberg, Cliver, & Hauth (2006); Wisner et al. (2009).
38
Field, Diego, & Hernandez-Reif (2006); Field et al. (2009); Orr & Miller (1995); Williamson et al.
(2008).
39
Pelled & Xin (1999).
40
Ashby et al. (2002); Jovanovic & Brdaric (2012).
41
Isen et al. (1987).
42
Baas et al. (2008); Davis (2009).
43
Baron et al. (1990); Barsade (2002); Carnevale (2008); Forgas (1998).
44
Baron et al. (1990); Baron, Rea, & Daniels (1992).
45
Carnevale, & Isen (1986).
46
Lawler, Thye, & Yoon, (2000).
47
Hertel et al. (2000); Lount (2010).
48
Judge & Kinger (2007).
49
Judge, Thoreson, Bono, & Patton (2001).
50
Riketta (2008).
51
Judge et al. (2010).
52
Diener, Nickerson, Lucas, & Sandvik (2002; Graham, Eggers, & Sandip (2004); Marks & Fleming
(1999).
53
De Neve (2011); De Neve, Christakis, Fowler, & Frey (2012); Rietveld et al. (2013).
54
Similarly, Edmans (2011, 2012) found evidence consistent with the importance of employee
satisfaction for firm performance.
55
Fredrickson & Branigan (2005); Estrada, Isen, & Young (1997); Isen, Rosenzweig, & Young (1991).
56
Aspinwall (1998).
57
Guven (2012).
58
Ibid.
59
Goudie et al. (forthcoming) estimate that the probability of being involved in an accident is reduced
by a factor of about 0.9.
60
Johnson & Fredrickson (2005).
61
Carlson, Charlin, & Miller (1988).
62
Anik, Aknin, Norton, & Dunn (2009).
63
Lyubomirsky et al. (2005); Myers (2000).
64
Diener & Seligman (2002).
65
Cunningham (1988b).
35
66
Baron (1987); Baron (1990).
67
Watson et al. (1995).
68
Coyne (1976).
69
Tay & Diener (2011).
70
Berry & Hansen (1996).
71
Fowler & Christakis (2008).
72
Gotlib & Hammen (2009).
73
Beck & Koenig (1996).
74
Romera et al. (2010).
75
Pressman & Cohen (2005).
76
Fredrickson (1998, 2001); Fredrickson & Branigan (2005); Kok et al. (2013).
77
Schmitz, De Rosa, & Anderson (2009).
78
Hölzela et al. (2011).
79
De Neve & Oswald (2012).
80
Ashby, Isen, & Turken (1999).
81
Lyubomirsky & Boehm (2010); Graham & Oswald (2010).
82
The Gallup World Poll is a representative sample of 941,161 individuals from 160 nations.
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