The economics of happiness

By Carol Clark | eScienceCommons | Jan. 9, 2014

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Shomu Banerjee has learned lessons in how to lead a contented life through encounters with all kinds of people, from an Indian road worker he sat next to on a bus to a Nobel Laureate in economics who was his graduate school advisor.

What can economics, "the dismal science," teach us about happiness?

Plenty, says Shomu Banerjee. A senior lecturer and applied microeconomic theorist at Emory, Banerjee was a presenter for the university's recent Good Life Speaker Series.

"Happiness is related to our perspective, the way we choose to look at things," he said in his talk. "And the definition of economics in this day and age is the study of choice: How do people choose things, how do they make decisions."

He recalled an experience he had while walking on the Emory campus, when he noticed a woman in her early 30s standing at a bus stop and crying. "She had tears flowing from her eyes and there were all these people standing around and nobody was saying anything to her," Banerjee said. "I said, 'Is there anything I can do for you?' And she said, 'No, it's okay, thank you very much.' And then she said, 'You know, one day I'm going to look at this and laugh.' So I said, 'If you already know you're going to look at this and laugh one day, why not start right now?' And she did actually start laughing at that point."

Once your basic needs are met, such as food, water and shelter, happiness becomes more about choice and perspective, and finding ways to create meaning in your everyday life, Banerjee said.

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