Tuesday, September 7, 2004

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Studying happiness

Tyler Cowen looks at a summary of the economics of happiness and offer this critical conclusion:

The conventional (academic) wisdom underrates money, status, sex, and marriage. [Could it be that academics do not always get these goods, and thus hope to manage their expectations and feel better about their failures?] As pure "ends in themselves," they can be a mixed bag. But if you can pursue them in a meaningful way, enjoy the process, and meet with relative success...well...you won't forget Oscar Wilde: "The only thing worse than being famous is not being famous," etc.

Speaking of happiness, Tyler also has some additional thoughts about Heidi Klum and insurance markets.

I've said it before and I'll say it again -- Marginal Revolution is worthy of daily consumption.

posted by Dan on 09.07.04 at 12:32 PM


Happiness cant buy money.

posted by: Mark Buehner on 09.07.04 at 12:32 PM [permalink]

The only thing worse than being noticed is not being noticed, as every blogger knows. Dr. Peter F. Rowbotham's 1992 essay "The Importance of Being Noticed" * (not available online) may shed some light on these behaviors:

We search for honor in favored venues and in chosen social institutions. We avoid those places and those social groupings which inhibit our search, which do not advance, and may even set back, our moral careers. As Harre (1980) has pointed out:

"Recent studies of adolescence have shown many young people to have an almost obsessive interest and preoccupation with the maintenance of dignity and the careful scanning of the social environment for occasions and acts of possible humiliation."

In this context, the unorthodox bonding rituals of, for example, Hell's Angels and British soccer fans -- and now the deadly rituals of adolescent jihadi recruits, not to mention those of academia -- may be seen as examples of a "system of honor that is an alternative to mainstream moral orders."

Forget about so-called "shame-and-honor cultures." We all do it. The search for honor and avoidance of shame, however defined, are fundamental to being human.

posted by: Sissy Willis on 09.07.04 at 12:32 PM [permalink]

I suspect that the obsessive pursuit of prestige occurs particularly in environments where you know that you are going to be stuck with the same set of people for a long time--small tribes, rural America in 1850, universities, corporations in low-turnover times. When you can get out and move on, it doesn't matter quite so much...

posted by: David Foster on 09.07.04 at 12:32 PM [permalink]

Thanks for the reminder, I haven't been visiting MarinalRevolution lately.

posted by: aaron on 09.07.04 at 12:32 PM [permalink]


It is odd that you highlight Tyler Cowen's conclusions -- which are nothing but his personal hunch -- and omit the findings of the academic research (which are exactly the opposite). Now, I agree that measuring "happiness" is a pretty dicey project, but it might still be better than one guy's hunch.

posted by: Prof E on 09.07.04 at 12:32 PM [permalink]

Ah yes, famed psychic Tyler Cowen - according to whom, we all secretly want telemarketing calls, and anyone who insists otherwise is obviously just covering up.


posted by: Cardinal on 09.07.04 at 12:32 PM [permalink]

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