What we’ve been reading (2020-21)

31 December 2021

Academic papers

A local community course that raises wellbeing and pro-sociality: Evidence from a randomised controlled trial

Krekel et al. present evidence that the Action for Happiness course, which is run in hundreds of communities across the UK and around the world, results in a 1-point increase in life satisfaction two months after the course ends.

People do not adapt. New analyses of the dynamic effects of own and reference income on life satisfaction

Analysing UK and German data, Kaiser finds that, in contradiction to much of the previous research, people do not get used to increases in their income. In fact, the effects of income may reinforce over time.

Poverty, depression, and anxiety: causal evidence and mechanisms

Ridley et. al. investigate why people living in poverty are disproportionately affected by mental illness. The authors discuss various mechanisms for the bi-directional relationship between poverty and mental health. The worry and uncertainty that come with living in poverty seem to be an important driver of mental health conditions. In the other direction, many experiments show a causal effect on employment by treating mental illness, which could explain the relationship with income.

What is animal happiness?

Webb et al. review the human happiness and animal welfare literatures in order to define animal happiness, and propose how to assess it. They argue that animal happiness depends on how an individual feels generally – that is, a typical level of affect.


Ask Me Anything: psychedelics research and philanthropy

Read answers from Tim Ferriss, Michael Pollan, and Dr Matthew W. Johnson – three people who have done a lot to increase the profile and prospects of psychedelic research. We were excited to see a detailed answer from Tim Ferriss to Michael’s question on the cost-effectiveness of putting additional resources towards psychedelics.

Is there a loneliness epidemic?

Despite the popularity of the claim, Our World in Data finds,surprisingly, that there is no empirical support for the fact that loneliness is increasing, let alone spreading at epidemic rates.

Why drugs should be not only decriminalised, but fully legalised

Michael Plant and Peter Singer argue for drug legalisation in the New Statesman. They claim: “The ‘War on Drugs’ has failed. It’s time that governments, not gangsters, run the drug market.” You’ll find further discussion on the EA Forum and Twitter.


A Handbook for Wellbeing Policy-Making [Open Access]

Frijters and Krekel make the case for wellbeing as the goal of government. The handbook shows how wellbeing measures can improve what the public sector does, but it’s also a read for everybody who enjoys thinking about the reality of policy-making. The UK Government has also published new guidance setting out how the growing body of wellbeing evidence should be incorporated in the policy process.

Can We Be Happier?: Evidence and Ethics

Richard Layard argues that the goal for a society must be the greatest possible all round happiness, and shows how each of us can become more effective creators of happiness, both as citizens and in our own organisations. Read an excerpt and interview in The Guardian.

The Science of Meditation

Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson cut through the ‘mindfulness’ hype, highlighting the most rigorous scientific findings on how meditation rewires our brains to improve focus, resilience, equanimity, and compassion.

The War for Kindness

Jamil Zaki argues that an individual’s capacity for empathy (sharing, understanding, and acting on others’ feelings) is not fixed, and can be improved. He provides some unusually well-written accounts of how expanding empathy can address some of our more complex social problems, and argues that the future of humanity hinges on our capacity to increase our circle of concern.


The Nordic Exceptionalism: What Explains Why the Nordic Countries Are Constantly Among the Happiest in the World?

The final chapter of the World Happiness Report 2020 finds the most crucial steps towards building happier societies are, “Institutionally, building a government that is trustworthy and functions well, and culturally, building a sense of community and unity among the citizens”.

Towards a Nordic Wellbeing Economy

The concept of a ‘Wellbeing Economy’ is increasingly being implemented by governments all over the world with New Zealand’s Wellbeing Budget perhaps the most prominent example. But what is a Wellbeing Economy in essence? What different forms can it take? How does it function in practice? And what are its benefits and drawbacks?

Wellbeing Adjusted Life Years

A recent report from the Happiness Research Institute explores the concept of the Wellbeing Adjusted Life Year. The report begins by comparing the effects of different health conditions and health symptoms in terms of WALYs and advocates for the metric to be applied as a universal key performance indicator that can be used across different domains of life.