Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



happiness, subjective well-being, SWB, life satisfaction, preference


A large literature documents the correlates and causes of subjective well-being, or happiness. But few studies have investigated whether people choose happiness. Is happiness all that people want from life, or are they willing to sacrifice it for other attributes, such as income and health? Tackling this question has largely been the preserve of philosophers. In this article, we find out just how much happiness matters to ordinary citizens. Our sample consists of nearly 13,000 members of the UK and US general populations. We ask them to choose between, and make judgments over, lives that are high (or low) in different types of happiness and low (or high) in income, physical health, family, career success, or education. We find that people by and large choose the life that is highest in happiness but health is by far the most important other concern, with considerable numbers of people choosing to be healthy rather than happy. We discuss some possible reasons for this preference.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Happiness, Well-being, Preferences (Philosophy)