The Happy Economist

The Happy Economist: Happiness for the hard-headed by Ross Gittins is a book that states that economics is misguided and that instead of having as its goal emphasizing wealth that instead happiness should be maximised.

The book is divided into two parts, the first is Micro Happiness that looks at happiness research and in which Gittins makes recommendations for what people should do to be happy. The second is macro-happiness where Gittins outlines what he thinks economists and society should do to maximise happiness.

The first section covers similar ground to books like Gross National Happiness where the correlation between MRI data and self-reported happiness is shown to be strong, how wealth relates to happiness and how work relates to happiness. Gittins also makes a list of 10 things to do to increase personal happiness. They are eminently sensible with quite a few similarities to the recommendations of other happiness researchers such as in Gross National Happiness but with some substantial differences. Both emphasize having good friends and family as critical, a moderate degree of wealth and being healthy. Beyond that they diverge substantially.

In the second section on Macro Happiness Gittins looks at what he sees as being wrong with economics and what society and economists should do to increase happiness. This part of the book is substantially weaker. Gittins states that the environment is important to happiness with scant evidence. He states how his new view of how economists should emphasize happiness has fallen on deaf ears when he’s stated it to other economists. It’s not surprising. He recommends possible limitations on working hours and other ideas.

The book is interesting but comes unstuck. It is curious that Gittins thinks that economics should be about everything. His personal recommendations are sensible and they are indeed what many people do. He fails to recognise this. That the domain of economics might be wealth maximisation while people individually look to make themselves happy with their own personal wisdom is not something that Gittins addresses. His recommendations for happiness maximisation for society are not strong. They are more about his values being writ large across society. The book is still worth reading, the first section on micro happiness is really strong.

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