Posts Tagged ‘Happiness’

OMD – The Punishment of Luxury

November 16, 2017 Leave a comment

I came across this new album by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) – The Punishment of Luxury. For those of you are unfamiliar, OMD are a band from Merseyside Liverpool and have been long remembered for their hits “Electricity”, in 1979 and the 1980 anti-war song “Enola Gay”. The band achieved broader recognition via their seminal album Architecture & Morality (1981) and its three singles, all of which were international hits.

The “Punishment of Luxury” album is specifically about the global divide. Today the world is more unequal than at any time in world history which is due largely to the fact that 200 years ago everyone was poor. But the increasing wealth of the higher income group has been alarming – America’s top 10% now average more than nine times as much income as the bottom 90%. The fact that people are much better off materially doesn’t seem to translate into a better mental condition – they seem to be unhappy. If you are in this situation you have undoubtedly got on the hedonic treadmill and the marketing people have got under your skin. It seems that if you don’t have the latest brand of a product you are less worthy of being recognized by your peer group and have less self-respect.

It seems that the very wealthy have the same problems as the rest of us but only on a much larger scale. A research paper from Boston College entitled “Secret fears of the super-Rich found that the top fears of the rich are:

  • The rich need increasing amounts of money to make them feel financially secure.
  • They feel isolated and don’t share their concerns or stress as they will sound ungrateful.
  • Thy worry that their children will become spoilt by inheriting so much wealth or resentful if its too little.
  • You are unsure if your friends genuinely like you or your money
  • There is constant dissatisfaction with consumption as something better / new is always being launched. They can’t get off the hedonic treadmill
  • Parents are concerned that money will rob their children of ambition and getting a job.

The title track is below. It is very OMD for those of you who are familiar with the sound of the band.

Money, happiness and hedonic adaptation.

December 10, 2015 Leave a comment

The Economist ‘Free Exchange’ column had a piece on money and happiness in which they looked at research into how peoples level of happiness is relative to reference groups. In the mid 1970s Richard Easterlin drew attention to studies that showed that, although successive generations are usually more affluent that their parents or grandparents, people seemed to be no happier with their lives. It is an interesting paradox to study when you are writing about measuring economic welfare and the standard of living.

Easterlin ParadoxWhat is the Easterlin Paradox?
1) Within a society, rich people tend to be much happier than poor people.
2) But, rich societies tend not to be happier than poor societies (or not by much).
3) As countries get richer, they do not get happier. Easterlin argued that life satisfaction does rise with average incomes but only up to a point. One of Easterlin’s conclusions was that relative income can weigh heavily on people’s minds.

Recent studies that looked at countries over time concluded that more income leads to greater levels of happiness. However it wasn’t clear as to whether money leads to happiness or happiness leads to money.

The Busara Centre for Behavioral Economics in Nairobi, Kenya, runs experiments with people from the depressed and rural areas of the country. Their researchers looked at the results of a lottery-like scheme in rural Kenya, in which a random sample of 503 households spread over 120 villages was chosen to receive cash transfers of up to $1,525. The average transfer, $357, was almost enough to double the wealth of a typical villager. After this had taken place researchers measured the well-being of villagers before and after the transfer of money. As expected those that received money reported an increase in happiness but those that did not receive any money fell sharply when they saw their neighbors livelihood improve. It transpired that the reduction in satisfaction by seeing your neighbour getting richer was greater than the increase in satisfaction from receiving the cash transfer. So therefore:

The bigger the handouts to others in their village, the greater the dissatisfaction of non-recipients

Hedonic Adaptation
Over a period of time the effects of the increase in a person’s income wears off over time as the recipient gets used to the norm. Economists refer to this as ‘Hedonic Adaptation’. There were big differences in the levels of satisfaction but after a year the level of happiness of both the recipient and non-recipients returned close to its original level prior to the windfall gain.

One interesting result was that villagers were not so concerned about inequality but the decline in their own wealth relative to the mean. Therefore a village could have great inequality as one group has got richer and another group poorer but the actual mean income remains unchanged.

A study by Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell entitled ‘Income and Well-Being: an empirical analysis of the comparison income effect’ shows that there is an asymmetry in the way people compare themselves with others. There is a tendency for people to compare themselves to those who are better off so we shift our reference group as our income goes up. Because of this we are never satisfied, since we quickly become accustomed to our own achievements.

Increases in family income accompanied by identical increases in the income of the reference group do not lead to significant changes in well-being; the larger an individual’s own income is in comparison with the income of the reference group, the happier the individual is. Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell

Categories: Behavioural Economics Tags:

Consumption and Short-Termism

December 6, 2015 1 comment

The New Philosopher dedicated a recent issue to The Property Wars in which there were articles by bestselling author Thomas Piketty in which he states that the current structure of property rights is a major cause of inequality. There was also a piece on consumerism and happiness

Many have argued that money doesn’t buy happiness and the most prominent economist to write about this was Richard Layard in his 2005 book ‘Happiness’. Rich countries are no happier than poor ones – real US incomes more than doubled after 1950 while happiness flatlined – and across the chequerboard of nations happiness goes up barely a jot beyond a per capita income of $20,000. Why to we buy stuff? The Gilded Age in the 19th century was a time of industrialisation and consumerism with property being “anything that the individual may acquire which sustains and prolongs life…and gives an advantage over opposing forces” – The Psychology of Ownership by Linus Kline and CJ France. In Australia, the lion’s share of household debt goes to mortgages on the family home, and world-wide the two best selling items are soft drink and potato chips. In the name of property and calories we slay the credit card and kill our domestic bottom line.

In reality, evolution may let us indulge our intellect, but feelings were there first and quickly remind us of this when we forget to do the basics like eating and sleeping. Theorists have argued that feeling good about products / services is central to our belief that they are good for us. As we find it hard to make decisions without feelings the advertising industry have entered the scene. John Kenneth Galbraith, in his book The Affluent Society, blamed the vast increase in consumption in the post-war period on companies that were now producing items which consumers would desired but not necessarily needed. Today brand building has become dominant in our society and the goal of each brand is to make you feel good about the product. For example:

  • A certain Mexican beer takes you to a part of the world where you want to be – a beach with a beautiful sunset.
  • A car company takes you to a ski resort amongst a picturesque Alpine environment.

Products become substitutes for experience as you get delivered the feelings by association – virtual reality with consuming a product. With a brand meaning more pleasure for consumers it is no wonder that there is greater consumption which leads to overspending. The 5th edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders includes ‘excessive acquisition’ as a feature of ‘hoarding disorder’. And the brain scan data are in too: compulsive buyers light up the same reward centre that rats trigger with a lever, getting rewards until they drop.

In getting used to the short-term feel good factor of material possessions, we shall over invest in acquiring them at the expense of our leisure. Consumers do underestimate the hedonic treadmill and as a result our life can be too focused on working and making money, and away from other pursuits.


The New Philosopher – Issue #9 ‘Property Wars’ – 2015

Happiness –  Richard Layard – 2005

Dosage and Happiness

Is poverty about money or friends?

June 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Social Interaction solutionIn the World Bank survey one stated that “I like money and nice things, but it’s not money that makes me happy. It’s people”. Research has suggested that social integration is more important for well-being than income and it also decreases poverty. By contrast loneliness can be deadly – one study found that it did more damage to health than smoking.

Income can be a misleading measure of need as:
1. Lower income groups end up living in different degrees of hardship depending on their intangible resources.
2. Having strong social integration reduce money hardship.
3. Friends and relatives can lend money, pool risk, mind children and bring news of job openings.

However a lot depends on having the right friends as if this does not eventuate hardship prevails. The more concentrated the poverty, the less helpful social networks tend to be.
A global survey conducted in 2014 by Gallup, a polling firm, found that 30% of people in the poorest fifth of their country’s population had nobody to rely on in times of need, compared to 16% of the richest fifth.

Several countries have experimented with schemes that connect lonely old people and deprived youth. Germany, for instance, has built “multi-generational” community centres where older visitors get computer coaching from teenagers.

Source: The Economist

Behavioural Economics iTunesU course for Schools

May 18, 2015 Leave a comment

Behavioural EconomicsBack in February I blogged on a Behavioral Economics course that I have been teaching for the last three years at King’s College. I have now put all the resources onto an iTunesU course so that you can access the multi-media material that accompanies the course booklet. The iTunesU course includes the following:

Interviews with:
– Richard Thaler – co-author of ‘Nudge’
– Geoffrey Miller – author of ‘Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behaviour’
– Dan Ariely – author of ‘Predictably Irrational’
– Daniel Kahneman – author of ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’

Scenes from:
– Black Gold
– The Corporation
– Inside Job
– Seinfeld
– Kevin Slavin – TED Talk “How algorithms shape our world”

The course booklet has been edited so that answers to questions can be typed – this can be downloaded also from the iTunesU course. Click on the link below to enroll on the course.

Categories: Behavioural Economics Tags:

Behavioural Economics course for school students

February 9, 2015 Leave a comment

BE Cover PageFor the past three years I have been teaching a Behavioural Economics course to all Yr 11 students (5th Form in UK). It is a 12 period course that is part of the Positive Education module. The course booklet consists of lesson plans on various topics and resources that are required to supplement the course. Click below to download the course notes and workbook. If you would like the PowerPoints that complement the course please email me – – and I will forward them on. Ideal for those post AS exam lessons.

Behavioural Economics – Yr 11 2015

Behavioural economics is about bringing reality into economic analysis. It borrows from psychology, sociology, politics, and institutional economics (which focuses on the rules of the economic game) to describe and explain human behaviour and economic phenomena. Behavioural economics builds upon conventional economics, offering more tools for understanding why people behave the way they do when it comes to income, wealth, ethics, and fairness. It uses prospect theory to describe the choices that the typical person makes. The course is split up into 4 topics and is designed for approximately 12 periods in length.

1. Understanding Choice

Free choice in Economic Decision Making
Anchoring and Framing
Placebo Effect
Paradox of Choice
Loss Aversion and Endowment Effect
Conventional v Behavioural Economics

2. Ethics and Economic Growth

Ethical Behaviour – definition
Milton Friedman and ethical behavior
The Conventional Perspective on Ethical Behaviour and the Economy
A Good Company – Ethics / Happiness
Examples of Companies with socially responsible norms
Ethics and Profits
Ethical consumers

3. Behavioural Finance

Definition – what is it?
Efficient Market Hypothesis
Random Walk Hypothesis
Irrational Exuberance
Bubbles and Busts – Tulip – Great Crash – – 2008 Global Financial Crisis

Causes of Bubbles
– Following the herd
– Relative positioning in investor behavior
– Overconfidence and under-confidence
– Institutional failure
– Conflict of interest

4. Game Theory

Introduction to Game Theory
Football – Penalty Shoot outs
Golden Balls Game Show

5. Money and Happiness

Conventional Theory – Money = Happiness
Measuring Happiness – Gross Domestic Product v Gross National Happiness
Diminishing Returns for Income and Wealth
Easterlin Paradox: Money doesn’t buy happiness
The Hedonic Treadmill – Money leads to more happiness but not for too long
Differences in happiness between countries
Government Policy and Happiness
Smarter Spending


Behavioural Economics for Dummies – Morris Altman
Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
Economic Naturalist – Robert Frank
Nudge – Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein
Inside Job – DVD
Black Gold – DVD
The Corporation – DVD
How Algorithms Shape our World – TED Talk

Categories: Behavioural Economics Tags:

New Zealand Well-Being

May 7, 2014 2 comments

Although a few years old, this graph from The Economist does highlight New Zealand as a country which has one of the highest levels of well-being but a low level of GDP per person to go with. The trend line shows that the higher the GDP per person the better the level of well-being. Ultimately the challenge for politicians is to try and get their country to the top left of the graph – i.e. higher well being for less GDP per person.

NZ Well-being

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