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The Happiness Equation: The Surprising Economics of Our Most Valuable Asset Hardcover – August 5, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


'An important, readable, incisive, and often marvellously funny book. The author is an international expert in the field and his deep knowledge shines through in the prose.' Andrew J Oswald, University of Warwick 'An adventure to one of the new frontiers of knowledge, this book is a masterful blend of personal experience, contemporary culture, and social science.' -- Richard Easterlin, University of Southern California 'This intelligent and entertaining book shows how the scientific study of happiness is changing the field of economics - and the world!' -- Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University and author of 'STUMBLING ON HAPPINESS'

About the Author

Dr. Nattavudh (Nick) Powdthavee is a researcher in applied microeconometrics, happiness data, health economics, labour economics, experimental and behavioural economics at the University of York. Discussions of his work have appeared in over 50 major international newspapers in the past five years, including the New York Times and the Guardian, as well as on TV including Channel 5 News and The Wright Stuff.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Icon Books Ltd (August 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848311664
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848311664
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,507,021 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Steve Benner VINE VOICE on September 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Maybe it's just me, but I found something quite sad about "The Happiness Equation: The Surprising Economics of Our Most Valuable Asset" by Nick Powdthavee. Now, don't get me wrong; I have no problem with the idea of happiness research per se, whether that be focused on the psychology or the economics of that most elusive of human conditions. Nor do I have any violent emotional reactions to the idea of placing a monetary value on happiness, nor to any of the various "shocking" conclusions that Dr Powdthavee and his colleagues have reached during the course of their research and which he reports in this book. Anyone who has spent any time at all working with the bereaved, the long term unemployed, or simply the generally disgruntled will readily confirm that the things that upset people the most are rarely the things which they claim to care about the most. We are odd and irrational beings when it comes to deciding what it is we want or don't want and what we think will make us happy; "The Happiness Equation" reports that for all that, we remain moderately consistent (and more or less the same as each other) in that irrationality.

Other reviewers have complained that the book contains nothing that isn't both bleedingly obvious and known about for a very long time. I disagree; I learned quite a few interesting things about myself and my fellow humans that I had not previously known. It was also nice to have many of the things that I had acquired a gut-feeling about over the years confirmed through solid research. Dr Powdthavee also does a good job in writing for the lay reader, keeping the statistical jargon to a minimum and explaining the research methodology in clear and comprehensible language.

So where, then, does the problem lie?
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Sullivan on September 28, 2011
Format: Paperback
Unfortunately for Powdthavee, I read this book not long after making my way through both Martin Seligman's Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment and Jonathan Haidt's wonderful The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. That means that I was already familiar with a number of studies and basic ideas (about positive psychology, the economics of well-being, etc.) and couldn't avoid comparing his discussions with theirs. The comparison doesn't work in his favor.

Powdthavee is certainly an enthusiastic writer, but his style and tone comes off as much more superficial than those of Seligman and Haidt. Maybe it's because much of core ideas of the book come from the fields in which they are much more versed. Add to that the fact that Haidt's book (did I mention it's wonderful?) is steeped in the philosophical, religious, and literary works of various civilizations, with some excellent insights.

Another shortcoming of the book has to do with that cheery tone. Other writers are a bit more pragmatic and honest about the limits to happiness and what we can do to markedly affect our feelings of satisfaction (i.e., what we can actually control, not genetics, past experiences, some circumstances, etc.). They then offer a very basic formula for what can account for one's overall level of happiness of life satisfaction, offering several good (and proven) suggestions for what we might do.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dunyazad VINE VOICE on January 9, 2013
Format: Paperback
Note: I received this book for free in exchange for a review.

I just didn't enjoy this book. Even though it's the sort of topic that I usually like, I found myself struggling to get through it so that I could write my review. At first I thought that the problem might be the writing: Powdthavee sometimes writes like a mathematician (or economist?), with an extreme precision that can actually get in the way of the reading. On further reflection, though, I think the problem is deeper than that: I sometimes just didn't find the concepts convincing. For example, a couple of chapters are devoted to the idea of assigning a monetary value to the happiness effect of certain events: getting married, or the death of a child. Powdthavee lays out an initial approach that comes up with certain values, and then says that there's another factor that needs to be taken into account, leading to a revision of the numbers. The difference is several orders of magnitude: something like $100,000 vs. $5000. And the way he presented it didn't make it clear to me that the "final" answer was any more complete than the initial attempt. If different methods can lead to such different outcomes, I found myself wondering whether the entire idea was meaningful at all.

On a similar note, Powdthavee makes a big deal about how having children doesn't really make us happy, despite all the common opinion to the contrary. This is a theme that persists throughout the whole book. And then there are a couple of pages toward the end where he introduces the concept of life satisfaction. He says that even things that don't make us happy per se can lead to greater life satisfaction, while things that do make us happy, like watching television, may do nothing for our overall satisfaction with life.
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