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Minimising misery: a new strategy for public policies instead of maximising happiness?

Lelkes, Orsolya (2013): Minimising misery: a new strategy for public policies instead of maximising happiness?

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Abstract

This paper raises the issue whether public policy should focus on minimizing unhappiness rather than maximizing happiness. Using a cross-sectional multi-country dataset with 57 thousand observations from 29 European countries, we show that unhappiness varies a great deal more across social groups than (high levels of) happiness does. Our findings are robust to several alternative specifications, using both self-reported life satisfaction and self-reported happiness, and different cut-off points for defining unhappiness (dissatisfaction) and high levels of happiness (satisfaction). While misery appears to strongly relate to broad social issues (such as unemployment, poverty, social isolation), bliss might be more of a private matter, with individual strategies and attitudes, hidden from the eye of a policy-maker. The social cost of unhappiness may be also reflected in the immense cost of mental health problems. Preventing avoidable unhappiness, however, needs to be complemented with other strategies for promoting happiness, perhaps on a more decentralized level, given the different causes of bliss and that of misery.

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