Happiness vs. the GDP

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This series of three lectures by Richard Layard on what we know about human happiness and what that might imply from a personal, social, and govermental point of view are just packed with thought provoking ideas.

For example we can now peek inside people’s heads and see which parts of their brains light up when they are happy and sad. That allows us to know that what people report subjectively about their levels of happiness are in fact quite accurate – isn’t science wonderful! That in turn has let us become reasonable confident that the nation to nation and year to year compairsons are valid.

He points out that it’s always been a goal of social policy to increase overall human happiness, but that given difficulties in measuring it folks have substituted other measures, for example income. We have done an excellent job of ratchetting up our GDP, but curiously we seem to have had little luck increasing the overall level of happiness.

Maybe you don’t get what you wish for, but you do seem to get what you measure.

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