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  • Series: Handbooks of Research Methods and Applications series x
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Ruut Veenhoven

The terms ‘quality-of-life’ and ‘happiness’ have different meanings; sometimes they are used as an umbrella term for all of value, and other times to denote special merits. This chapter is about the specific meanings of the terms. I distinguish four qualities of life, one of which is subjective appreciation with life. Next I distinguish four kinds of appreciation, one of which is ‘happiness’ in the limited sense of the word. On the basis of this conceptual differentiation I inspect what is measured by some current measures of quality of life. I discuss several weaknesses of these measures and show that quality of life cannot be measured comprehensively. The most comprehensive measure of quality of life is how long and happily people live, which is entirely measurable.

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Luigino Bruni

The transformation of wealth into well-being has been a central point in some of the main protagonists of the economic tradition. In particular, from Malthus to Sen, the Cambridge economic tradition paid special attention to non-economic domains important for human happiness, and to the effects of economic choices over general well-being. Marshall was the bridge between the classical reflection on happiness in the eighteenth century and the recent debates on the ‘paradoxes of happiness’, where we find again some of the issues of classical and neo-classical economics, which have been forgotten by the mainstream.

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Marina Bianchi

One of the fundamental dimensions of art is its ability to de-familiarize, to question the known, to create a contrast with the patterns of everyday life. But if art creates doubts, if it challenges our certainties and our ‘learned’ responses, why should we regard it as interesting, much less enjoyable? Recent psychological literature on aesthetic preferences has addressed precisely this question and has begun to analyze the emotional and affective value of complex goods such as art. We are used to thinking of aesthetic preferences as related to art only. Yet aesthetics has a much larger scope and includes all those goods and activities that we enjoy for the challenges they provide in terms of novelty and complexity, goods that include design and architecture, fashion and advertising, but range also to activities such as conversation and conviviality, political and social involvement, and the enjoyment of nature. What is argued in this chapter is that creative activities, pursued primarily for the intrinsic reward they provide, are also those mainly responsible for keeping curiosity, exploration and interest alive. Because of their complexity and evolving nature, these activities are open ended. They allow for constant new connections and associations to be discovered and pursued. This makes them the material for an engaging and enjoyable life.

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Luca Crivelli, Sara Della Bella and Mario Lucchini

Studies concerning the determinants of subjective well-being (SWB), conducted in several countries and based on different datasets and methods, have all shown that health is one of the strongest predictors of individual happiness. However, more work is necessary in order to determine whether this relationship is a truly causal one and to unravel the temporal dynamics of the effect of health on SWB. In this chapter we aim, first of all, to provide an accurate estimate of the effect of self-assessed health on SWB by using the Swiss Household Panel dataset and panel data models that enable us to get rid of unobserved heterogeneity, which represents the main obstacle in models trying to estimate causal effects. As a second objective, we focus on the study of the temporal dynamics underlying the emergence of happiness and the relationship between happiness and health. We are interested in clarifying: (a) whether people are able to fully adjust to past health circumstances as well as to past life events and (b) whether SWB is autoregressive. In other terms, we investigated the existence of general and specific habituation in SWB. In this chapter we applied a FE model in order to investigate specific habituation channels and a GMM model in order to understand whether life satisfaction (our indicator of SWB) is autoregressive. In conclusion our models confirm the strong association between health and SWB revealed by previous studies. Both the FE and the GMM model prove that current health is a strong predictor of SWB.

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Michela Guerini and Giampaolo Nuvolati

The understanding of the concept of happiness brings light to a multiple theoretical framework composed of different approaches that are not always rightly considered or well known. This chapter aims at resuming the differentiation in happiness studies and proposes the identification of subjective and objective indicators of happiness that maintain the multiple distinction existing in theory. The conclusion highlights the necessity for a coexistence of approaches to happiness in order to foster a more solid and complete knowledge on this particular subject.

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Nicola Matteucci and Sabrina Vieira Lima

We survey the happiness and economics field to systematize the explanations of the happiness gender gap, whose puzzling evidence stands out both synchronically and diachronically. Further, this analysis is completed by an interdisciplinary review of competing perspectives, mostly from psychology and medical sciences. Beside disciplinary specificities and differences, results and explanations also reveal some intriguing commonalities. Psychology and medical sciences (also assisted by cutting-edge medical technologies) lead in the static (time-invariant) explanation of happiness and its gender gap, while economic works are better equipped to detect external factors and the role of time-varying objective life conditions. In particular, the happiness and economics field has provided original evidence on the country and time-variant nature of the happiness gender gap. Finally, different disciplines have uncovered the common stylized fact that women are increasingly worse off during their life, through aging, with respect to men: its full explanation still remains at the centre of the research agenda.

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Alessandra Pelloni

A fundamental question for economic analysis is how successful an economy is at delivering welfare for its members. According to virtually all cultural traditions, non-instrumental social relations, which we refer to as relational goods, are indeed necessary for a good life. However, relational goods are quintessentially gratuitous and cannot therefore be exchanged through markets or produced by the State. For these reasons their social value cannot enter GDP calculations and risks being ignored in our public discourse. In the past the quantitative evaluation of the impact of relational goods on welfare was just impossible. This is no longer true thanks to the increasing availability of data on subjective well-being (and on social activities themselves). Findings from these data strongly confirm the importance of social ties for our welfare and urge us to give up the anthropological reductionism still characterizing much of economic research.

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Luca Stanca

Media consumption plays an increasingly important role in modern societies throughout the world. It is therefore essential to understand its effects. We review the existing evidence on the impact of media consumption on well-being, focusing in particular on television viewing and use of the Internet. In both cases we consider studies that examine the effects of either quantity of use or specific contents. With relatively few exceptions, the empirical literature generally indicates negative effects of television viewing and positive effects of Internet use.

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Luca Stanca

This chapter reviews recent evidence on valuing interpersonal relations. We focus, in particular, on two approaches that have received much attention in the recent literature on relational goods: the hedonic price method and the life satisfaction approach. We survey the key empirical contributions while discussing the main advantages and limitations of the two approaches.

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Pier Luigi Porta

Public happiness is the core idea of the Italian School during the latter half of the eighteenth century. This chapter focuses on that notion and on the impact of the analysis of some of the major Italian economists along those lines especially in connection with the reforms launched and implemented particularly in Naples and in Milan at the time. Among other figures, Antonio Genovesi, Pietro Verri, Ferdinando Galiani and Cesare Beccaria stand out for their contributions. Genovesi and Beccaria are also pioneering professors of the discipline in Naples and in Milan respectively. The chapter expands the study of the Italian case in three directions. In the first place it is shown that the Italian School is the offspring of the humanist movement, thriving in Italy and exported all over Europe since the twilight of the Middle Ages, and their emphasis on vita civile: it is significant that Genovesi, the master of the Italian School, calls the discipline economia civile. Secondly the Italians, with their analysis of happiness, are shown to be more relevant than other precursors (e.g. the Physiocrats) in paving the way to the formative steps of the British Classical School and to Smith’s Wealth of Nations in particular. Finally the chapter brings out the continuity of the Italian School through the subsequent centuries up to the present day.