The Happiness-Energy Paradox: Energy Use is Unrelated to Subjective Well-Being

  • Adam Okulicz-KozarynEmail author
  • Micah Altman


Earth’s per capita energy use continues to grow, despite technological advances and widespread calls for reduction in energy consumption. The negative environmental consequences are well known: resource depletion, pollution, and global warming. However many remain reluctant to cut energy consumption because of the widespread, although, implicit, belief that a nation’s well being depends on its energy consumption. This article systematically examines the evidential support for the relationship between energy use and subjective well-being at the societal level, by integrating data from multiple sources, collected at multiple levels of government, and spanning four decades. This analysis reveals, surprisingly, that the most common measure of subjective well-being, life satisfaction, is unrelated to energy use -- whether measured at the national, state or county level. The nil relationship between happiness and energy use is reminiscent of the well-known Easterlin Paradox, however the causal mechanisms responsible to each remain in question. We discuss the possible causes for the Happiness-Energy paradox and potential policy implications.


Energy use Energy consumption Energy intensity of economy Sustainability Happiness Life satisfaction Subjective well-being (SWB) 



We thank anonymous reviewer for pointing out that the relation between energy use and SWB is very similar to the relation between economic growth and SWB (i.e., the Happiness Paradox).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

This material has not been published in whole or in part elsewhere; the manuscript is not currently being considered for publication in another journal; all authors have been personally and actively involved in substantive work leading to the manuscript, and will hold themselves jointly and individually responsible for its content.

Conflict of Interest

No conflict of interest declared.

Supplementary material

11482_2019_9719_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (337 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 337 kb)


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Copyright information

© The International Society for Quality-of-Life Studies (ISQOLS) and Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Public PolicyRutgers, The State University of New JerseyCamdenUSA
  2. 2.Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyCambridgeUSA

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