Happiness And Health: Lessons—And Questions—For Public Policy

Editor’s Note: In this aricle, named as one of the Top 20 Health Affairs Journal Articles For 2008, Carol Graham reviews the happiness-health relationship from aneconomics perspective, highlighting the role of adaptation.


This paper reviews the happiness-health relationship from an economics perspective, highlighting the role of adaptation. People’s expectations for health standards influence their reported health and associated happiness, a finding that roughly mirrors the Easterlin paradox in income and happiness. Research on unhappiness and obesity shows that norms and stigma vary a great deal across countries and cohorts, mediating the related well-being costs. Better understanding this variance and its effects on incentives for addressing the condition is important to policy design. More generally, the paper discusses how happiness surveys can—and cannot—inform public health policy.

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