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Hedonic Model

July 31st, 2017
preferences, happiness

Here's a rough model of happiness. I'm still confused about what happiness is, why it's a thing, and how to compare it between people, but here's where I am now:

We have a sense of how good things could be. We're probably born with some genetically informed priors, but mostly we develop this sense based on experience. When a good thing happens to us our sense of what's possible goes up, as when we observe good things happening to others. If you think of something as inaccessible to you, it doesn't affect your sense of how good things could be. Happiness is having how things are going be closer to how you think things could be going.

Some things this model predicts:

(This has some resemblance to how positional goods work, but isn't the same. For example, if the cocoa tree goes extinct only a small fraction of people have their relative positions change, but lots of people are worse off.)

I'm not sure how much I buy this model, though I've been thinking along these lines for a while. Either way, I definitely don't currently act as if I believe its consequences in their entirety. For example, I like to give my kids things they will enjoy, and this isn't a factor I've been taking into account in thinking about global poverty charities.

(Thanks to David Chudzicki for conversations inspiring this post.)

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