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The academics quoted lyrics written by Pete Townshend of The Who when he was 20: “Things they do look awful cold / Hope I die before I get old”.They pointed out that Mr Townshend, having passed his 60th birthday, was writing a blog that glowed with good humour.Conventional economics uses money as a proxy for utility—the dismal way in which the discipline talks about happiness.But some economists, unconvinced that there is a direct relationship between money and well-being, have decided to go to the nub of the matter and measure happiness itself.Mr Townshend may have thought of himself as a youthful radical, but this view is ancient and conventional.
Neurotic people are not just prone to negative feelings: they also tend to have low emotional intelligence, which makes them bad at forming or managing relationships, and that in turn makes them unhappy.This personality trait may help explain some cross-cultural differences: a study comparing similar groups of British, Chinese and Japanese people found that the British were, on average, both more extrovert and happier than the Chinese and Japanese. All sorts of things in people's lives, such as relationships, education, income and health, shape the way they feel.Being married gives people a considerable uplift, but not as big as the gloom that springs from being unemployed.And richer people are happier than poor ones—though just how much is a source of argument (see article). Ask a bunch of 30-year-olds and another of 70-year-olds (as Peter Ubel, of the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, did with two colleagues, Heather Lacey and Dylan Smith, in 2006) which group they think is likely to be happier, and both lots point to the 30-year-olds.Ask them to rate their own well-being, and the 70-year-olds are the happier bunch.
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In America, being black used to be associated with lower levels of happiness—though the most recent figures suggest that being black or Hispanic is nowadays associated with greater happiness.