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Unformatted text preview: latimes.com http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-happy3jul03,1,6714551.story?track=rss From the Los Angeles Times COLUMN ONE Happy? Let's Sum It Up Researchers tap the `dismal science' of economics to quantify well-being. It isn't money that leaves you feeling like a million. By Stuart Silverstein Times Staff Writer July 3, 2006 Midway into his career as a professor, USC's Richard Easterlin deduced something that seemed astonishing, at least for an economist: Money doesn't buy happiness. Grandparents and sages have said as much through the ages. Yet when Easterlin published his ¡rst happiness research in the 1970s, fellow economists brushed it off. "People don't take this as serious stuff," he said. "They think it's maybe cocktail party conversation." Things are looking up these days for Easterlin, 80, and the small but increasingly visible network of researchers relying on the so-called dismal science of economics to ¡nd the keys to happiness. If earning more money generally does surprisingly little or even nothing to make societies happier, they wonder, what works better? Good health? Marriage? Sex? By one reckoning, boosting the frequency of sex in a marriage from once a month to once a week brings as much happiness as an extra $50,000 a year. Happiness economists review thousands of attitude surveys and apply high-level math to calculate the satisfaction connected with activities and demographic traits. It sounds like sociology, but the economists are more apt to focus on money and work. Consider the sex study. Through surveys and some fancy math, economists essentially created a ladder of happiness and found that the extra sex and the extra $50,000 provided the same boost. Happiness economics, its enthusiasts emphasize, isn't a touchy-feely enterprise. They say that it eventually could harness the power of economics to better bene¡t humanity and help guide public policy. Their ¡ndings often suggest that, instead of focusing so heavily on economic growth, governments could turn more attention to things that might, in essence, cheer people up. The options include better medical care, greater job security and reduced crime. These cost money, but they don't necessarily put more cash in a person's pocket. With those sorts of goals in mind, the United Kingdom is exploring the development of one or more national indicators of well-being, and a group of prominent American and foreign academics is calling on the U.S. government to do the same. Bhutan, a small Buddhist nation in the Himalayas, has drawn international attention with plans to introduce an array of "Gross National Happiness" indicators. The measures, due by 2008, would track such areas as health and education, along with "cultural vitality and diversity" and "psychological well-being." Skeptics question whether this and other efforts are anything more than happy talk....
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- Fall '10