Journal article

Long-running German panel survey shows that personal and economic choices, not just genes, matter for happiness

7 Oct 2010

Key choices and behaviours in private life and work life influence long term happiness, despite the effects of fixed genetic and personality traits, this study finds.

Associate Professor Bruce Headey, Principal Fellow at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, and colleagues analyzed data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Survey, a series of yearly interviews of adult and youth household members from 1984-2008, and found that a substantial segment of the German population has experienced long term and apparently permanent changes in happiness over the 25 year period.


Psychologists and economists take contradictory approaches to research on what psychologists call happiness or subjective well-being, and economists call subjective utility. A direct test of the most widely accepted psychological theory, set-point theory, shows it to be flawed. Results are then given, using the economists’ newer “choice approach”—an approach also favored by positive psychologists—which yields substantial payoffs in explaining long-term changes in happiness. Data come from the German Socio-Economic Panel (1984–2008), a unique 25-y prospective longitudinal survey. This dataset enables direct tests of theories explaining long-term happiness.

The full findings of this research can be viewed in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) Article #10-08612: “Long-Running German Panel Survey Shows That Personal and Economic Choices, Not Just Genes, Matter for Happiness.

Image: moriza / flickr

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