The Problems with Measuring and Using Happiness for Policy Purposes

25 Pages Posted: 7 Jun 2018

See all articles by Mark D. White

Mark D. White

CUNY College of Staten Island

Date Written: 12/02/2014


Many governments around the world are considering measures of happiness or subjective well-being as alternatives to gross domestic product (GDP) for the purpose of guiding economic policymaking. Compared to GDP, happiness measures promise to better capture the quality of life of a nation's citizens and lead to policies that are more effective and equitable. However, there are a number of problems with the concept of happiness that policymakers should be aware of before adopting it as a policy tool. In this paper, I focus on three interrelated aspects of happiness?definition, measurement, and policy implementation?and explain why each renders happiness a poor guide for policy. In general, happiness is a vague, multifaceted, and subjective phenomenon that is difficult to define precisely enough for measurement, hard to measure in a way that allows meaningful comparison between individuals and groups, and fraught with ethical complexities that complicate policy implementation.

Suggested Citation

White, Mark D., The Problems with Measuring and Using Happiness for Policy Purposes (12/02/2014). MERCATUS RESEARCH, Available at SSRN: or

Mark D. White (Contact Author)

CUNY College of Staten Island ( email )

Staten Island, NY
United States

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