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Utility and Happiness

Utility and Happiness

  • Having a bigger house and more money doesn’t necessarily make people happy.
  • Just like social media, things that bring utility need not bring happiness.
  • Surveys show that people usually predict that the things they say they’d pay money for would also boost their happiness — but not always.

Social Media and Happiness

Social Media and Happiness

  • Allcott et al. found that the people who deactivated Facebook as part of the experiment were happier afterward, reporting higher levels of satisfaction and lower levels of depression and anxiety. This was 25-40% of improvement reported for psychotherapy.
  • Why are people willing to pay money for something that reduces their happiness? Because..
  1. Social Media acts like an addictive drug.
  2. People are motivated by something other than happiness.

Getting what you want…

Getting what you want…

…need not make you happy.

  • People sometimes make choices they come to regret.
  • We need to question whether society should just feed human desires all the time.
  • Bentham’s utilitarianism conceived of a good society as one that makes its people happy.
  • But what if the things people desire don’t bring them happiness?

William blake

Man was made for Joy & Woe

And when this we rightly know

Through the world we safely go

Joy & Woe are woven fine

A Clothing for the soul divine.

Under every grief & pine

Runs a joy with silken twine.

WILLIAM BLAKE

Ensuring happiness

Ensuring happiness

  • Happiness is hard to measure.
  • Happiness surveys don’t reveal the measure of true happiness. Because people say what they think they should say due to cultural expectations.
  • People could gradually lose their ability to gauge how much happier or sadder they are.
  • One should stop making mistakes that leads to a less happy self, no matter how badly one wants something.

Utility and Economics

Utility and Economics

  • Much of modern economic theory is based around Utility.
  • British Philosopher Jeremy Bentham was the inventor of Utilitarianism.
  • To an economist, utility simply means how much people want something.
  • Modern economists tend to assume that utility is good — that people should get what they want.
  • More egalitarian economists tend to value the utility of the poor and disadvantaged more than the utility of the wealthy, but fundamentally it’s still about giving people what they desire.

Happiness research

Happiness research

  • There’s no clear consensus on how to measure happiness.
  • Some neuroscientists have tried to link it to various measures of brain activity.
  • Economists tend to use a cheaper and quicker method, sending out surveys and questionnaires asking people how happy they are.
  • People seem to reliably seek out things which make them happy.

An interesting research

An interesting research

  • In 2019, a few economists (Hunt Allcott et al.) investigated how much money they had to pay Facebook users in order to deactivate the Facebook app for one or two months.
  • They found that the median amount was $100, and the average was $180.
  • This suggests that Facebook generates a huge amount of utility.

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