Utility and Happiness Miles Kimball and Robert Willis University of Michigan http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mkimball/pdf/index.html
Two Meanings of “Happiness” • The Greatest Good for an Individual • Feeling Happy
“Happiness,” as defined operationally by psychologists • On a scale from one to seven, where one is “extremely unhappy” and seven is “extremely happy,” how do you feel right now?
Distinguishing preferences and happiness as a matter of logic. • Preferences (Represented by Lifetime Utility) = The extent to which people get what they want, where what they want is revealed by their choices. • Happiness (Current Affect) = How positive people’s feelings are at a given time.
The Ethical Question • People’s own choices and feelings are the two non-paternalistic indicators we have for individual welfare(what makes an individual better off in the sense relevant for policy). • A priori, both seem useful. • What if public policy choice A accords with what people would choose, but policy choice B would make them feel best?
The Neobenthamites • Currently, the standard view among psychologists and most economists working with happiness data—articulated most forcefully by Daniel Kahneman—is that a present discounted value of measured happiness is a good indicator of what people should be maximizing. • To the extent that people are maximizing something else, it is viewed as a mistake. • Factual mistakes people make in predicting their own future happiness are thought to be an important reason people make these optimization mistakes. (Return to this below.)
Our View • We are questioning this orthodoxy. • When well-informed and thoughtful, we view people’s choices as the best indication of their individual welfare. • People do often make optimization errors. • But much of what this orthodoxy takes as evidence of optimization errors, we take as evidence that utility and “happiness” are not the same thing.
Evidence that Utility≠Happiness • People who knowingly, thoughtfully and without regret choose not to maximize long-run happiness indicate that utility≠happiness for them. • People make choices eagerly that they never regret, but which have no long-run effect on how happy they feel. • Moving to a new city • Buying a nice car 3. People thoughtfully make choices that they never regret, which lower their long-run felt happiness. • Commuting further to a higher-paying job. • Longer working hours to put one’s child through college. • Having a baby? • Doing one’s duty.
The Scientific Question: What is the Relationship Between Preferences and Happiness? • Both felt happiness and choice-based preferences are well-defined, observable concepts. • Thenature of the relationship between the standard psychological concept of happiness and the standard economic concept of preferences is an open empirical question.
Why the Story about Preferences and Happiness Can’t be Simple: • Easterlin Paradox • Hedonic Adaptation
Hedonic Adaptation (Mean Reversion of Happiness)“This, too, shall pass.” Cross-sectional evidence of hedonic adaptation for • incarceration • loss of the use of limbs • serious burns • death of a spouse • winning the lottery • winning £10,000 raises affect by six times as much in the first year as £10,000 per year in additional income. Dynamics of national happiness after big news: • “Unhappiness after Hurricane Katrina”
The Happiness Index “Now think about the past week and the feelings you have experienced. Please tell me if each of the following was true for you much of the time this past week: • Much of the time during the past week, you felt you were happy. (Would you say yes or no)? • (Much of the time during the past week,) you felt sad. (Would you say yes or no?) • (Much of the time during the past week,) you enjoyed life. (Would you say yes or no?) • (Much of the time during the past week,) you felt depressed. (Would you say yes or no?)”
An Integrated Theory of Utility and Happiness A. Preference for Happiness: Many people value happiness, as evidenced by the fact that they will sacrifice other things for the sake of happiness. B. News and Happiness: Short-run spikes and dips in happiness • signal what people consider good and bad news, • which in turn signals what they care about.
Preference for Happiness Axiom: • Preferences depend on the joint stochastic process of S: vector of state variables C: vector of control variables H: current happiness (affect) B: other outputs of household production functions (e.g. health) • There is an intertemporal expected utility representation over these ultimate goods • at least weakly increasing in H at every date and in every state of nature.
Evidence in Favor of a Preference for Happiness The preference for happiness shows up in both household and firm behavior: • Purchases of therapy, Prozac, self-help books, magazines featuring “happiness.” • Advertising that tries to suggest that a product will make one feel happy.
Contrast with the Neobenthamite View • People value happiness (and will sacrifice other goods for it) versus • People should be maximizing happiness (often interpreted as saying that happiness is the true utility function).
Arguments of Happiness beyond S,C,B Qt = control variables that do not matter directly for preferences, but affect household production of happiness (empty set? psychoactive and other medical drugs, recreational drugs?) Jt= state variables that do not matter directly for preferences but affect household production: genes, underlying physical and psychological states, unknown parameter values and shocks. vt, vt-1, vt-2,… = the history of lifetime utility. (Note: B=B(S,J,C,Q))
News andHappiness • The relationship between circumstances and happiness is weak in the long run, BUT • No one disputes that in the short run happiness responds in an intuitive way to news about lifetime utility. • Thus, we argue that an important component of happiness is due to recent news about lifetime utility.
The News and Happiness Axioms • Happiness at time t is a function of • the other ultimate goods, S, C and B, • an additional state variable vector J (unobserved?) • an additional control variable vector Q, • and the history of realized lifetime utility v through time t. --Holding all other arguments of happiness fixed, the agent is 2. Happierif currentexpected lifetime utility is of a preferred future. 3. Less happy if past expected lifetime utility was of a preferred future.
Simultaneous Determination of Utility and Happiness • News and Happiness Axiom 4 is an ordinal version of the kind of assumptions that guarantee a contraction mapping, so that there is a well-defined solution to the simultaneous determination of utility and happiness. • Although preferences over ultimate goods exhibit intertemporal expected utility, • the derived preferences over the fundamentals (S, J)=K and (C,Q)=X can exhibit reference-dependence and loss aversion as in Prospect Theory.
The Innovation ιin Lifetime Utility v(Additive Separability, Observed K) Note about the lifetime utility innovation: so
News and Happiness Axioms + Additive Separability Imply Axiom 2→ Axiom 3→
The Elation Theory of Happiness(In Words) Experienced happiness is the sum of two components: • elation: short-run happiness that depends on recent news about lifetime utility • baseline mood: long-run happiness that is the output of a household production function (like health, entertainment, or nutrition.)
Key Implications of the Happiness and News Axioms • A theory of happiness can be described in terms of the objects that are well-defined by revealed preference: • The fundamentals (state and control variables and outputs of household production functions) that people care about and • The history of which indifference curves for lifetime plans one has been on. • Old news about the future matters less for happiness than recent news about the future.
Loss Aversion from Elation Theory:Happiness Additively Separable with Elation Concave in Lifetime Utility Innovations U(K,X,H,A)=F(K,X)+M(K,X) +α0min(ιt, ιt/2) + α1min(ιt-1, ιt-1/2)+ …
Elation-Independence:Additively Separable Happiness with Elation Linear in Lifetime Utility Innovations U(K,X,H)=u(K,X)+M(K,X) +α0ιt + α1ιt-1 + …
Factual Mistakes about Happiness Need Not Cause Decision Mistakes • Given rational expectations, adding a linear combination of lifetime utility innovations to the utility function has no effect on the preferences represented. • In this case, mistakes about the rate of hedonic adaptation cause no harm to utility maximization. • However, mistakes about the controllable determinants of baseline mood will cause material harm.
Raising Baseline Mood: How to Raise Happiness in the Long Run • Prozac and Talk Therapy • Taking Care of Oneself • Sleep • Exercise • Eating well • Enjoyable Activities • Spending time with friends • An engrossing hobby
How to Raise Happiness in the Long Run (cont.) 4. Positive attitudes • Gratitude • Forgiveness • Acceptance of one’s situation • Raising one’s social rank
Do People Know the Production Function for Baseline Mood? • Just as people don’t know the true production function for health, they may not know the true production function for baseline mood. • Lack of understanding of the dynamics of the elation mechanism could make it difficult for individuals to parcel out the determinants of baseline mood. • The discovery and dissemination of facts about the determinants of baseline mood could have large positive welfare effects • A big deal if the share of the money and time budget devoted to baseline mood trends up.
Applying Price Theory to Baseline Mood: The Demand for Prozac • If you learn more about the household production function for happiness, your behavior will change in a direction that takes advantage of that to raise happiness. • Example: Demand for Prozac will go up if information arrives that it is more effective in raising happiness than previously thought (with no new information about side effects). • Demand will go down if information arrives that it is less effective at raising happiness than previously thought.
Applying Price Theory to Baseline Mood: Materialism • Materialism lowers happiness (weak, but interesting evidence). • Tradeoff between happiness and other goods. • Materialism means higher preferences for other goods compared to happiness.
Applying Price Theory to Baseline Mood: The Easterlin Paradox Revisited • Normality of baseline mood leads to a version of the Easterlin Paradox even in the context of our theory: Why don’t people buy higher baseline mood as part of their expanding consumption bundle?
Why Doesn’t Rising IncomeLead to Greater Happiness? 1. Lack of Understanding of Happiness? 2. More internal conflicts from greater income? • obesity • drug use 3. Negative externalities from others’ freedom? • breakdown of community • divorce 4. Resources spent on increased lifespan? 5. Raising one’s happiness takes time.
Why are Utility and Happiness Confused? • Because they are dramatic, elation and dismay may dominate people’s perception of happiness. • Everyone wants good news. That is, everyone wants what spikes in happiness signal. • Not everyone values the emotional spikes per se, as distinct from what they signal. • Not everyone will sacrifice other goods for the long-run happiness that remains even when there is no good or bad news.
Implications for Policy • Happiness is valuable: should be fostered. • Happiness data are a reminder of tangible and intangible externalities in the utility function—especially social rank externalities. • Economic growth can be of enormous value, despite the Easterlin Paradox. • Happiness data is not enough to diagnose optimization mistakes.
Conclusion: Integrating Happiness into Mainstream Economics • Happiness needs to be integrated in a way that respects the canons of Economics. • Two key dimensions for integrating happiness into economics: • First, the short-run responses of happiness to news provide important information about preferences. • Second, long-run happiness is important in its own right.
Elation and Hedonic Adaptation • Because it is based on recent news, elation fades, • News doesn’t stay news for very long. • The initial burst of elation dissipates once the full import of news is emotionally and cognitively processed. • This can help explain why, in the long run, becoming better off may not lead to greater happiness.
The Evolutionary Psychology of Elation and Dismay • Functionally, elation and dismay may motivate cognitive processing—much like curiosity. • Elation: after good news, it pays to • think what you did right, so you can do it again • think how to take advantage of the new opportunities • Dismay: after bad news, it pays to • think what you did wrong, so you can avoid doing it again • think how to mitigate the harm of the bad news • Curiosity: after news that is neither clearly good nor bad, it pays to learn more for the sake of option value
The Evolutionary Psychology of Hedonic Adaptation • Analogy: Adjustments in the pupil of the eye protect the eye and enhance sensitivity. • Protect: Being too happy or too sad has physical costs. Hedonic adaptation protects from these costs. • Enhance Sensitivity: “Hedonic adaptation may also increase our sensitivity to, and motivation to make, local changes in our objective circumstances….” (Frederick and Loewenstein)
Speculations on The Evolutionary Psychology of Baseline Mood • High social rank makes it safe to look more for opportunities than for dangers. • Thus, it makes sense to stimulate the same machinery turned on by the receipt of good news. • Optimists and pessimists need each other. • Quirks in the system? • Pinker’s cheesecake
Appendix A: Psychologists Reliably Measure Happiness, But What Is It? • Some economists think happiness can’t be measured well. This is just not true. Current happiness (affect) is one of the easiest of all subjective concepts to measure. • What is true (that these economists are intuiting) is that once happiness is measured, we don’t know what it means in terms of economic theory.
The Validity of Self-Reported Happiness Correlated with • observer ratings of happiness • structured coding of facial expressions • electrical measures of face muscle activation • voice tone • skin conductance, heart rate, blood pressure, etc. • writing speed • judgment of probabilities • word association and word completion • startle reflex • left pre-frontal cortex activity (which can also be induced by seeing pictures of a smiling baby and reduced by seeing pictures of a deformed baby)