Research Paper

Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 14, Issue 5, pp 1543-1561

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Quantifying the Value of Emotions Using a Willingness to Pay Approach

  • Hi Po Bobo LauAffiliated withUniversity of Hong Kong
  • , Mathew P. WhiteAffiliated withEuropean Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH), University of Exeter Medical School, Knowledge Spa, Royal Cornwall Hospital Email author 
  • , Simone SchnallAffiliated withUniversity of Cambridge


People generally seek out positive moods and avoid negative moods; however, it is unclear which motivation is more pronounced. Two studies addressed this issue by developing a value-based ranking of emotions based on the willingness to pay (WTP) approach. The approach utilizes money’s cardinal properties and assumes opportunity costs as with everyday purchases. In Study 1 British participants indicated they would be willing to pay more to experience positive than to avoid negative emotions. In Study 2 this positivity bias was replicated with another sample of British participants. However, Hong Kong Chinese participants did not show such a preference, and were willing to pay significantly less to experience positive emotions but more to avoid negative emotions when compared with British participants. Experiencing Love was given the highest WTP judgment in all samples. Thus, some emotions are universally valued, whereas preferences for others differ across cultural groups, perhaps shaped by norms. Implications concerning valuations of psychological states for policy purposes are discussed.


Subjective well-being Emotion Affect Willingness to pay Culture Affective forecasting