Views & Reviews Review

What price happiness?

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 16 November 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7344
  1. Adam Oliver, research councils UK senior research fellow, London School of Economics and Political Science, London WC2A 2AE
  1. a.j.oliver{at}

With moves to measure wellbeing afoot, this book considers the economics of happiness. However, reviewing it didn’t make Adam Oliver any happier

Over recent years, there has been a spate of books—by Richard Easterlin (Happiness, Growth and the Life Cycle, 2010) and Richard Layard (Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, 2005), among others—promoting the science of “happiness.” The underlying message in these books is that happiness is a self evident “good” that the general public, and perhaps policy makers, should strive to increase, and even maximise. In The Happiness Equation, Nick Powdthavee joins this chorus. But is it obvious, from both an individual perspective (where people are considering their own happiness through their own personal decisions) and a societal perspective (where people are considering others’ happiness arising from public policy decisions), that greater total happiness (or lesser total unhappiness) is always best?

In a healthcare context, Redelmeier and colleagues tested the extent to which individuals want to minimise their unhappiness of an experience (Pain 2003;104:187-94, doi:10.1016/S0304-3959(03)00003-4). The authors divided 682 patients having colonoscopy into two groups. In one group the colonoscope was left inserted for an additional unnecessary minute at the …

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