Understanding and Improving the Social Context of Well-Being

John F. Helliwell

NBER Working Paper No. 18486
Issued in October 2012
NBER Program(s):   DEV      PE

The paper first attempts to demonstrate the fundamental importance of the social context. The related evidence is drawn from recent theoretical and empirical advances in the study of subjective well-being. Treating people's self-assessments of the quality of their lives as valid measures of well-being exposes the importance of the social context and suggests new ways to design better policies.

The paper starts with demonstrations of the unexpectedly great well-being consequences of social and pro-social behavior. In addition, evidence is advanced to show an evolutionary fitness for social and pro-social behaviors above and beyond those flowing through their direct consequences for subjective well-being. This is followed by discussion of specific measures of the social context, of the fundamental importance of trust as social glue, and of several experiments designed to improve subjective well-being.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w18486

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