Friday, December 01, 2006

Different measures of happiness

From the latest Undercover Economist column by Tim Harford:

... Researchers can ask some variant of the question with which I began this article ["All things considered, are you happy with your life as a whole these days?"] in an attempt to measure overall satisfaction with life. Or they can use the “day reconstruction method”, championed by Alan Krueger and the psychologist Daniel Kahneman ....

This method tries to measure the flow of emotion by asking people to think back over a recent day and reconstruct what they did - had breakfast, got the kids ready for school, drove to work and so on - and how they felt while they did it.

Collecting such data is expensive, but it has some advantages over the simple question about how satisfied people are with their lives. For one thing, the psychologist Norbert Schwarz has shown that when you ask people how happy they are, the answer you get depends on whether the sun is shining, or whether they have just found a dime on the floor. (Schwarz used to plant coins where people would find them.)