By James Kwak
From the treasure trove that is the NBER working paper series, a friend forwarded me “Is Psychological Well-Being Linked to the Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables?” by David Blanchflower, Andrew Oswald, and Sarah Stewart-Brown (NBER subscription required). It got some media attention last month when the paper first came out, but I wanted to read it because, well, I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables: I generally aim for seven servings a day, although when life is busy it can be as low as three or four. (Right now I’m munching on dried mango slices.)
The core of the paper is a bunch of regressions that show that better psychological well-being (which is all the rage these days) is correlated with eating more fruits and vegetables, with benefits up to at least five servings and in some cases up to eight servings. This isn’t particularly surprising on its face, since eating fruits and vegetables is probably correlated with having a high income, exercising, being fit, cooking, and any number of other things that are conducive to happiness.
By James Kwak
A friend passed on this article in The Motley Fool by Morgan Housel. It begins this way:
“That’s the title of Vanguard founder John Bogle’s fantastic book about measuring what counts in life.
“The title, as Bogle explains, comes from a conversation between Kurt Vonnegut and novelist Joseph Heller, who are enjoying a party hosted by a billionaire hedge fund manager. Vonnegut points out that their wealthy host had made more money in one day than Heller ever made from his novelCatch-22. Heller responds: ‘Yes, but I have something he will never have: enough.'”
The rest of the article discusses the cases of Rajat Gupta and Bernie Madoff, the former accused (but not criminally) and the latter convicted of illegal activity done after they had already been enormously successful, professionally and financially.
Housel asks, why do people push on — legally or illegally — when they have more of everything than anyone could possibly need? He summarizes the happiness research as follows:
“Money isn’t the key to happiness. What really gives people meaning and happiness is a combination of four things: Control over what they’re doing, progress in what they’re pursuing, being connected with others, and being part of something they enjoy that’s bigger than themselves.”
By James Kwak
That was undoubtedly the response of theoretical law and economics devotees to the premature retirement of Kansas City Royals pitcher Gil Meche a few weeks ago, which we discussed in one of my classes last week. Meche signed a five-year, $55 million, guaranteed contract before the 2007 season, which would have paid him $12 million in 2011 simply for showing up, despite a broken-down shoulder that made him an ineffective pitcher. Yet Meche decided to retire, giving up the $12 million. Meche said this:
“Once I started to realize I wasn’t earning my money, I felt bad. I was making a crazy amount of money for not even pitching. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I didn’t want to have those feelings again.”
By James Kwak
A few days ago I wrote a post addressing Mike Konczal’s question of whether behavioral economics, as a whole, weakens the case for the welfare state or, more generally, for activist liberal policies. I said the answer was “no.” But I think positive psychology—otherwise known as happiness research—presents a more difficult question.
I’ve only consumed popular versions of happiness research, such as The Happiness Hypothesis, by Jonathan Haidt, but basically the story is something like this. For much of its history, psychology had a pathological bent: it was concerned with figuring out why people had psychological problems and how to cure those problems. (Whether it had any success whatsoever is a question for another day and another blog.) A few decades ago, however, some psychologists decided they would try to figure out what makes people happy, and they started a wave of happiness studies that continues today. In many of these studies, people are pinged at random times and asked to rate how happy they are at that moment. Then treatments are introduced so you can measure the difference in happiness between the treatment and control groups. For example, if people find a quarter in a pay phone,* afterward they will report they are happier than people who didn’t find the quarter; not only does this effect persist for a surprisingly long time (into the next day, I think), but also affects people’s reported happiness about unrelated parts of their life, like their family life.