Centre for Economic Performance (CEP)

Happiness and Public Policy

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The Wellbeing Programme is contributing on the following issues:

Wellbeing Over the Life Course

For policy-makers to take subjective wellbeing seriously, we have to be able to show, in a quantitative way, what causes wellbeing and how wellbeing affects other things that policy-makers care about, like education and physical health. At present, we lack such an integrated life-course model, one which treats wellbeing both as an outcome of interest and as a causal determinant of other things. Our current research, funded by the UK Department for Work and Pensions, the US National Institute on Aging and the ESRC, is attempting to estimate such a model. We are now part of a consortium of researchers estimating models of the life course determinants of current subjective well-being based on longitudinal data for a number of countries, co-ordinated by the OECD.

Government policy-making aimed at wellbeing

One of our aims is that government policy should increasingly aim at wellbeing. Richard Layard has been on the Legatum Institute Commission for Wellbeing Policy chaired by Gus O'Donnell. The other Commission members are Angus Deaton, Martine Durand and David Halpern. The Commission's aim is to lay out how wellbeing policy could work procedurally (including new forms of cost-benefit analysis, together with some obvious new policy priorities). Its report, Wellbeing and Policy, was launched in March 2014.


In 2010, the British Prime Minister announced that subjective wellbeing would be a major government goal and would be regularly measured by the ONS in the national statistics, and this programme is now underway. Paul Dolan, Richard Layard and Rob Metcalfe have been long-standing advisers to the Office for National Statistics on this and Paul Dolan and Richard Layard are members of its Measuring National Wellbeing Advisory Forum. The modern science of happiness enables us to measure people’s quality of life in meaningful ways – reported happiness is well-correlated with objective measurements in the brain and with the kinds of factors, like unemployment, which we would expect to matter.

Is Happiness a Proper Objective for Society?

This is a basic philosophical issue and in the second edition of Happiness, published in 2011, Richard Layard devotes a new Part 3 to this issue. Guy Mayraz is also studying the effect of happiness on voting behaviour.

How to Promote a Happier Society

Richard Layard is a co-founder of a new movement called Action for Happiness, which was launched in Spring 2011. Members from all backgrounds pledge to live so as to create as much happiness as they can and as little misery. The movement already has more than 20,000 members from over 120 countries.

New Global Models of Progress

Worldwide, there is a search for new models of progress. Professor Layard currently chairs the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Health and Wellbeing, which produced a report at Davos in January 2012, WellBeing and Global Success. The OECD has for some years been attempting to redefine progress, and in July last year the UN General Assembly advocated greater priority for policies that promote happiness. In April 2012, the United Nations held a high-level meeting on what this involves, and Richard co-edited (with Jeff Sachs and John Helliwell) a World Happiness Report.

Does Economic Growth Make Rich Nations Happier?

In various papers, we have shown the importance of income comparisons. See:

Does Relative Income Matter? Are the Critics Right?, R. Layard, G. Mayraz, S.J. Nickell, CEP Discussion Paper 918
Life Satisfaction and Relative Income: Perceptions and Evidence, G. Mayraz, G.G. Wagner, J. Schupp, CEP Discussion Paper 938

CEP research in this area includes:

CEP Discussion Paper
Estimating the Influence of Life Satisfaction and Positive Affect on Later Income Using Sibling Fixed-Effects
R. Berner Shalem, F. Cornaglia, J.E. De Neve
November 2012
Paper No' CEPDP1176: Read Abstract | Full paper (pdf)
CEP Discussion Paper
Happy Talk: Mode of Administration Effects on Subjective Well-Being
P. Dolan, G. Kavetsos
July 2012
Paper No' CEPDP1159: Read Abstract | Full paper (pdf)
CEP Discussion Paper
Not all Incentives Wash out the Warm Glow: The Case of Blood Donation Revisited
J. Costa-Font, M. Jofre-Bonet, S.T. Yen
July 2012
Paper No' CEPDP1157: Read Abstract | Full paper (pdf)
CEP Special Report
How Mental Illness Loses Out in the NHS A report by The Centre for Economic Performance's Mental Health Policy Group
R. Layard
June 2012
Paper No' CEPSP26: Read Abstract | Full paper (pdf)
CEP Discussion Paper
Why Do People Pay for Useless Advice?
N. Powdthavee, Y.E. Riyanto
June 2012
Paper No' CEPDP1153: Read Abstract | Full paper (pdf)

CEP Discussion Paper
Genes, Economics and Happiness
N.A. Christakis, J.E. de Neve, J.H. Fowler, B.S. Frey
February 2012
Paper No' CEPDP1127: Read Abstract | Full paper (pdf)
Lecture Materials - CEP 21st Birthday Lecture Series
Mental Health: The New Frontier for the Welfare State
R. Layard
March 2012 | Transcript, Slides and Podcasts available here
CEP Discussion Paper
Happiness as a Driver of Risk-Avoiding Behavior
J.E.l De Neve, R.J.B. Goudie, S. Mukherjee, A.J. Oswald, S. Wu
February 2012
Paper No' CEPDP1126: Read Abstract | Full paper (pdf)
CEP Discussion Paper
Wishful Thinking
G. Mayraz
November 2011
Paper No' CEPDP1092: Read Abstract | Full paper (pdf)
CEP Discussion Paper
A Model for the Delivery of Evidence-Based PSHE (Personal Wellbeing) in Secondary Schools
J. Coleman, D. Hale, R. Layard
August 2011
Paper No' CEPDP1071: Read Abstract | Full paper(pdf)
CEP Discussion Paper
A Step towards Valuing Utility the Marginal and Cardinal Way
P. Dolan, D. Fujiwara, R. Metcalfe
July 2011
Paper No' CEPDP1062: Read Abstract | Full paper(pdf)
Research Report - Department for Education
Evaluation of the UK Resilience Programme, Final Report
A.R. Challen, S. Machin, P. Noden and A. West
April 2011
Paper No' DFE-RR097: Full paper (pdf)
Book - Penguin Publising
Happiness : Lessons from a new science
R. Layard
April 2011: Buy Book from Publisher | Download Annex (pdf)
LSE Mimeo
Using tested programmes for secondary PSHE
R. Layard, J. Coleman and D. Hale
March 2011 | Full paper (pdf)
CEP Discussion Paper
Priors and Desires
Guy Mayraz, March 2011
Paper No' CEPDP1047: Read Abstract | Full paper (pdf)
CEP Special Report
Measuring Subjective Wellbeing for Public Policy: Recommendations on Measures
P. Dolan, R. Layard, R. Metcalfe
March 2011
Paper No' CEPSP23: Read Abstract | Full paper (pdf)
Research Report - Department for Education
UK Resilience Programme Evaluation: Second Interim Report
A.R. Challen, S. Machin, P. Noden and A. West
April 2011
Paper No' DFE-RR006: Full paper (pdf)
Book Chapter - Oxford University Press NY
Does Relative Income Matter? Are the Critics Right?
R. Layard, G. Mayraz, S.J. Nickell
Chapter 6 of "International Differences in Well-Being" (Eds. E. Diener, J. Helliwell, D. Kahneman)
April 2010: Buy Book from Publisher | Read Abstract
Originally published as CEPDP0918, March 2009
Journal Article - Science
Measuring subjective well-being
R. Layard
January 2010
Paper No' 327(5965): 534-535 | Full paper
CEP Discussion Paper
Life Satisfaction and Relative Income: Perceptions and Evidence
G. Mayraz, J. Schupp, G.G. Wagner
July 2009
Paper No' CEPDP0938: Read Abstract | Full paper (pdf)
Lecture Transcript - OECD Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy
Charting Progress, Building Visions, Improving Life
Why subjective well-being should be the measure of progress
R. Layard
October 2009 | Full transcript (pdf)
Book Chapter - University of Chicago Press
Well-Being Measurement and Public Policy
R. Layard
Chapter 6 of "Measuring the Subjective Well-Being of Nations" (Ed. A.B. Krueger)
December 2009: Buy Book from Publisher
Book Chapter - Social Market Foundation
The Greatest Happiness Principle: Its Time Has Come
R. Layard
Afterword in "Well-Being: How to lead the good life and what government should do to help" (Eds. S. Griffiths, R. Reeves)
July 2009: Download book (pdf)
Research Report - Department for Education
UK Resilience Programme Evaluation: Interim Report
A.R. Challen, S. Machin, P. Noden and A. West
April 2009
Paper No' DCSF-RR094: Full paper (pdf)
Book - Penguin Publising
A Good Childhood: Searching for Values in a Competitive Age
R. Layard, J. Dunn
February 2009: Buy Book
Journal Article - Journal of Public Economics
The marginal utility of income
R. Layard, S.J. Nickell, G. Mayraz
August 2008
Paper No' 92 (2008): 1846-1857 | Full paper
CEP Discussion Paper
Comparing Willingness-to-Pay and Subjective Well-Being in the Context of Non-Market Goods
Paul Dolan, Robert Metcalfe, October 2008
Paper No' CEPDP0890: Read Abstract | Full paper (pdf)
Journal Article - The Economic Journal
Happiness and public policy: a challenge to the profession
R. Layard
March 2006
Paper No' 116 (510): C24-C33 | Full paper
Book Chapter - Oxford University Press
Rethinking Public Economics: The Implications of Rivalry and Habit
R. Layard
Chapter 5 in "Economics and Happiness" (Eds. L. Bruni, P.L. Porta)
2005: Read Online
Magazine Article - Prospect
Happiness is Back
R. Layard
March 2005 | Read article
Lecture Transcript - LSE Lionel Robbins Memorial Lecture Series
Happiness: Has Social Science a Clue?
R. Layard
March 2003
Lecture 1 Transcript (pdf) | What is happiness? Are we getting happier?
Lecture 2 Transcript (pdf) | Income and happiness: rethinking economic policy
Lecture 3 Transcript (pdf) | How can we make a happier society?