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Are Happier Nations More Responsible? Examining the Link Between Happiness and Sustainability

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Abstract

The paper uses aggregate data from 152 countries to analyze the association between happiness and sustainability. Our paper provides new evidence on happiness and sustainability. Taking a psychological approach, happiness is linked to hedonism and reflects individual perceptions of quality of life and life satisfaction. Sustainability reflects the extent of meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals which includes responsible consumption. In order to elucidate the link, the analysis examines separately the association between happiness, consumption, sustainability and responsible behavior. The results document a positive and significant association between them, which remains broadly robust subject to various controls, sensitivity and endogeneity tests. The results contribute to the elucidation of the role of happiness and hedonism for sustainability and stress the complementarity between happy life and good life. While associated with higher consumption, happiness could also lead to more responsible behavior and higher adherence of sustainability considerations. Thus, happy nations may consume more but they also appear to be more responsible towards the society and the environment. Our results challenge the traditional notion that happiness and sustainability go separate ways. These findings signal a number of potential social and political implications including pointing on the importance of happiness to responsible behavior.

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Change history

Notes

  1. The terms “green consumption”, “responsible consumption” and “sustainable consumption” are often used loosely and interchangeably in the literature and practice (Kotler & Armstrong, 2004).

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Appendix: Definition of variables

Appendix: Definition of variables

Variable code Definition and source
SDGI The SDG general index, ranging from 0 to 100, from the UN Sustainable Development Report
CONSCAP The level of consumption per capita (log), from the World Development Indicators, from the World Bank
RECYCLE The recycling rate, from the What A Waste Global Database, World Bank. It measures the percent of waste annually generated that is recycled in a country
HAPPINESS The index of life ladder (happiness), from the UN World Happiness Report
HAPPINESS1 The life satisfaction index, from R. Veenhoven (2018) Happiness in Nations, World Database of Happiness, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands
GDPCAP The level of gross domestic product per capita (log), from the World Development Indicators, World Bank. It is considered a measure of economic development of countries
CREDIT The level of domestic credit to the private sector (% GDP), from the World Development Indicators, World Bank. It is considered a measure of financial development of countries
GINI The Gini coefficient, from the World Development Indicators, World Bank. It is considered a measure of income inequality of countries
HEALTHEXP The index of health expectancy at birth (years), from the Health Indicators, World Health Organization. It reflects the overall mortality level of the population of countries
SOCSUP The index of social support, from the UN World Happiness Report
ETHNFRAC The measure of ethnic fractionalization in society, ranging from 0 to 1, from Alesina et al. (2003). It reflects the likelihood that two randomly selected persons from a given country will not share the same ethnic origin (ethnic heterogeneity). A higher index reflects a lower probability of common sharing
GEOPOL The measure of global geopolitical risk, from Caldara and Iacoviello (2018). It is based on the counting of the occurrence of words related to geopolitical tensions in 11 leading international newspapers
DEMQUAL The index of the quality of democracy, from the UN World Happiness Report
CONTRCORR The index of control of corruption, from the Worldwide Governance Indicators, World Bank. It measures the effectiveness of policies in combatting corruption
GENDER The meaure of women’s political empowerment, from the V-Dem dataset, from Michael et al. (2019). Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Project, version 9. At: https://doi.org/10.23696/vdemcy19

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Sameer, Y.M., Elmassah, S., Mertzanis, C. et al. Are Happier Nations More Responsible? Examining the Link Between Happiness and Sustainability. Soc Indic Res 158, 267–295 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-021-02698-4

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Keywords

  • Happiness
  • Hedonism
  • Sustainability
  • Consumption
  • Responsible behavior

JEL Classification

  • Q01
  • Q32
  • G41
  • I31