Social Indicators Research

, Volume 119, Issue 3, pp 1363–1377 | Cite as

The Happiness Workout

  • Paul Dolan
  • Georgios KavetsosEmail author
  • Ivo Vlaev


This study tests for causality from exercise and physical activity to life satisfaction (LS) by applying an instrumental variable approach with the respondents’ perceived benefits of exercise participation as instruments. Using data across 25 countries from the Eurobarometer survey, our results confirm the positive association between exercise and LS. In terms of causality, the results indicate that being active increases LS for both gender, though more for men than women. One main reason for this relationship is that exercise is perceived as being pleasurable, something that policy-makers should keep in mind when designing programmes to get us off the sofa.


Subjective well-being Life satisfaction Happiness Physical activity Sport 



The authors wish to thank Peter Ayton, Karol Borowiecki, Daniel Fujiwara, Laura Kudrna, Andrew Oswald, Tessa Peasgood, Nick Powdthavee, Anastasia Stathopoulou, Stefan Szymanski and an anonymous referee for valuable comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this study.


  1. Anderson, J. R., Bothell, D., Byrne, M. D., Douglass, S., Lebiere, C., & Qin, Y. (2004). An integrated theory of the mind. Psychological Review, 111, 1036–1060.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Audrain, J., Schwartz, M., Herrera, J., Golman, P., & Bush, A. (2001). Physical activity in first degree relatives of breast cancer patients. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 24, 587–603.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Batty, G. D. (2002). Physical activity and coronary heart disease in older adults. European Journal of Public Health, 12, 171–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baum-Baicker, C. (1985). The psychological benefits if moderate alcohol consumption: A review of the literature. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 15, 305–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Biddle, S. J. H., Fox, K. R., Boutcher, S. H., & Faulkner, G. E. (2000). The way forward for physical activity and the promotion of psychological well-being. In S. J. H. Biddle, K. R. Fox, & S. H. Boutcher (Eds.), Physical activity and psychological well-being (pp. 154–168). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Brand, S., Beck, J., Gerber, M., Hatzinger, M., & Holsboer-Trachsler, E. (2009). Football is good for your sleep: Favorable sleep patterns and psychological functioning of adolescent male intense football players compared to controls. Journal of Health Psychology, 14, 1144–1155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown, S. A. (2005). Measuring perceived benefits and perceived barriers for physical activity. American Journal of Health Behavior, 29, 107–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brown, H. S., Pagán, J. A., & Bastida, E. (2005). The impact of diabetes on employment: Genetic IVs in a bivariate probit. Health Economics, 14, 537–544.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brunello, G., Michaud, P. C., & Sanz-de-Galdeano, A. (2009). The rise of obesity in Europe: An economic perspective. Economic Policy, 24, 551–596.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bryant, A., & Charmaz, K. (Eds.). (2007). The SAGE handbook of grounded theory. Los Angeles: Sage.Google Scholar
  11. Cantor, N., & Sanderson, C. A. (1999). Life task participation and well-being: The importance of taking part in daily life. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology (pp. 230–243). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  12. Chaouloff, F. (1997). The serotonin hypothesis. In W. P. Morgan (Ed.), Physical activity and mental health (pp. 179–198). Abingdon: Taylor and Francis.Google Scholar
  13. Charness, G., & Gneezy, U. (2009). Incentives to exercise. Econometrica, 77, 909–931.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Coakley, J., & White, A. (1992). Making decisions: Gender and sport participation among British adolescents. Sociology of Sport Journal, 9, 20–35.Google Scholar
  15. Costa-Gomes, M. A., & Weizsäcker, G. (2008). Stated beliefs and play in normal-form games. Review of Economic Studies, 75, 729–762.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cutler, D. M., Glaeser, E. L., & Shapiro, J. M. (2003). Why have Americans become more obese? Journal of Economic Perspectives, 17, 93–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. David, A. (2008). Heterogeneous beliefs, speculation, and the equity premium. Journal of Finance, 63, 41–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Di Tella, R., Donna, J., & MacCulloch, R. (2008). Crime and beliefs: Evidence from Latin America. Economics Letters, 99, 566–569.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Di Tella, R., Galliani, S., & Schargrodsky, E. (2007). The formation of beliefs: Evidence from the allocation of land titles to squatters. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 122, 209–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dimeo, F., Bauer, M., Varahram, I., Proest, G., & Halter, U. (2001). Benefits from aerobic exercise in patients with major depression: A pilot study. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 35, 114–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dolan, P., & Kahneman, D. (2008). Interpretations of utility and their implications for the valuation of health. Economic Journal, 118, 215–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dolan, P., & Metcalfe, R. (2012). Measuring subjective well-being: Recommendations on measures for use by national governments. Journal of Social Policy, 41, 409–427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Dolan, P., Peasgood, T., & White, M. (2008). Do we really know what makes us happy? A review of the economic literature on the factors associated with subjective well-being. Journal of Economic Psychology, 29, 94–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. European Commission. (2005). Promoting healthy diets and physical activity: A European dimension for the prevention of overweight obesity and chronic diseases. European Commission Green Paper, December 2005, Brussels.Google Scholar
  25. Forrest, D., & McHale, I. (2009). Public policy, sport and happiness: An empirical study. Working paper, Salford University.Google Scholar
  26. Foti, K. E., Eaton, D. K., Lowry, R., & McKnight-Ely, L. R. (2011). Sufficient sleep, physical activity, and sedentary behaviors. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 41, 596–602.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. French, M. T., & Popovici, I. (2011). That instrument is lousy! In search of agreement when using instrumental variables estimation in substance use research. Health Economics, 20, 127–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Greendorfer, S. L. (1977). Role of socialization agents in female sport involvement. Research Quarterly, 48, 304–310.Google Scholar
  29. Greendorfer, S. L., & Lewko, J. H. (1978). Role of family members in sport socialization of children. Research Quarterly, 49, 146–152.Google Scholar
  30. Greene, W. H. (1998). Gender economics courses in liberal arts colleges: Further results. Journal of Economic Education, 29, 291–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hamer, M., Stamatakis, E., & Steptoe, A. (2009). Dose-response relationship between physical activity and mental health: The Scottish Health Survey. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 43, 1111–1114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hamilton, K., & White, K. M. (2011). Identifying key belief-based targets for promoting regular physical activity among mothers and fathers with young children. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 14, 135–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hansen, C. J., Stevens, L. C., & Coast, J. R. (2001). Exercise duration and mood state: How much is enough to feel better? Health Psychology, 20, 267–275.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hoffmann, P. (1997). The endorphin hypothesis. In W. P. Morgan (Ed.), Physical activity and mental health (pp. 163–177). Abingdon: Taylor and Francis.Google Scholar
  35. Huang, H., & Humphreys, B. (2012). Sports participation and happiness: Evidence from US micro data. Journal of Economic Psychology, 33, 776–793.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kan, K., & Tsai, W. (2004). Obesity and risk knowledge. Journal of Health Economics, 23, 907–934.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Katsaiti, M. S. (2012). Obesity and happiness. Applied Economics, 44, 4101–4114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kavetsos, G. (2011). Physical activity and subjective well-being: An empirical analysis. In P. Rodriguez, S. Kesenne, & B. Humphreys (Eds.), The economics of sport, health and happiness: The promotion of well-being through sporting activities (pp. 213–222). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  39. Latif, E. (2009). The impact of diabetes on employment in Canada. Health Economics, 18, 577–589.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lee, Y. H., & Park, I. (2010). Happiness and physical activity in special populations: Evidence from Korean survey data. Journal of Sports Economics, 11, 136–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Manly, B. F. J. (2005). Multivariate statistical methods (3rd Edn). Chapman and Hall: CRC.Google Scholar
  42. Morris, S. (2007). The impact of obesity on employment. Labour Economics, 14, 413–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Nardo, M., Saisana, M., Saltelli, A., Tarantola, S., Hoffman, A., & Giovannini, E. (2008). Handbook on constructing composite indicators: Methodology and user guide, OECD, European Commission, Joint Research Centre.Google Scholar
  44. Oswald, A. J., & Powdthavee, N. (2007). Obesity, unhappiness and the challenge of affluence: Theory and evidence. Economic Journal, 117, 441–459.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Panter, J. R., & Jones, A. P. (2008). Associations between physical activity, perceptions of the neighbourhood environment and access to facilities in an English city. Social Science and Medicine, 67, 1917–1923.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Peluchette, J. V., Karl, K., & Rust, K. (2006). Dressing to impress: Beliefs and attitudes regarding workplace attire. Journal of Business and Psychology, 21, 45–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Pettit, J. W., Kline, J. P., Gencoz, T., Gencoz, F., & Joiner, T. E. (2001). Are happy people healthier? The specific role of affect in predicting self-reported health symptoms. Journal of Research in Personality, 35, 521–536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Pollock, K. M. (2001). Exercise in treating depression: Broadening the psychotherapist’s role. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 57, 1289–1300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Poortinga, W. (2006a). Perceptions of the environment, physical activity, and obesity. Social Science and Medicine, 63, 2835–2846.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Poortinga, W. (2006b). The prevalence and clustering of four major lifestyle risk factors in an English adult population. Preventive Medicine, 44, 124–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Rasciute, S., & Downward, P. (2010). Health or happiness? What is the impact of physical activity on the individual? Kyklos, 63, 256–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Roberts, R. E., Kaplam, G. A., Shema, S. J., & Strawbridge, W. J. (2000). Are the obese at greater risk of depression? American Journal of Epidemiology, 152, 163–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Ruby, M. B., Dunn, E. W., Perrino, A., Gillis, R., & Viel, S. (2011). The invisible benefits of exercise. Health Psychology, 30, 67–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 1069–1081.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Sari, N. (2009). Physical inactivity and its impact on healthcare utilization. Health Economics, 18, 885–901.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfilment. London: Free Press.Google Scholar
  57. Seymour, B., Singer, T., & Dolan, R. (2007). The neurobiology of punishment. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 8, 300–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Shahab, L., & West, R. (2011). Differences in happiness between smokers, ex-smokers and never smokers: Cross-sectional findings from a national household survey. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 121, 38–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Snoep, L. (2008). Religiousness and happiness in three nations: A research note. Journal of Happiness Studies, 9, 207–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Stubbe, J. H., de Moor, M. H. M., Boomsma, D. I., & de Geus, E. J. C. (2007). The association between exercise participation and well-being: A co-twin study. Preventive Medicine, 44, 148–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Stutzer, A. (2007). Limited self-control, obesity and the loss of happiness, IZA discussion paper 2925.Google Scholar
  62. Teixeira, C. M., Vasconcelos-Raposo, J., Fernandes, H. M., & Brustad, R. J. (2013). Physical activity, depression and anxiety among the elderly. Social Indicators Research, 113, 307–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Thornberg, R., & Charmaz, K. (2012). Grounded theory. In S. D. Lapan, M. Quartaroli, & F. Reimer (Eds.), Qualitative research: An introduction to methods and designs (pp. 41–67). San Francisco, CA: Wiley.Google Scholar
  64. Vilhjamsson, R., & Kristjansdottir, G. (2003). Gender differences in physical activity in older children and adolescents: The central role of organized sport. Social Science and Medicine, 56, 363–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Wang, F., Orpana, H. M., Morrison, H., de Groh, M., Dai, S., & Luo, W. (2012). Long-term association between leisure-time physical activity and changes in happiness: Analysis of the prospective national population health survey. American Journal of Epidemiology, 176, 1095–1100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. White, M. P., & Dolan, P. (2009). Accounting for the richness of daily activities. Psychological Science, 20, 1000–1008.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Wooldridge, J. M. (2002). Econometric analysis of cross-section and panel data. London: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  68. Zimmerman, F. J. (2009). Using behavioral economics to promote physical activity. Preventive Medicine, 49, 289–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social PolicyLondon School of EconomicsLondonUK
  2. 2.Department of Surgery and Cancer, Faculty of MedicineImperial College LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations