Sunday, February 25, 2007

Too Busy Not to Play: How Children Affect People’s Happiness

Last week I commented on the recent Unicef report regarding the well-being of children in 21 rich countries. As I did more research on the topic of children’s well-being I found two Blogs that provide insight on the effect of having children and of child-like behavior on adults’ well-being. In her Blog titled the Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin discusses the impact of having children on people’s happiness. She insists that having children increases happiness although studies done by psychologist Daniel Gilbert prove otherwise. Alexander Kjerulf presents in his Blog the Chief Happiness Officer an interview with Bernie DeKoven, the author of the Well-Played Game. DeKoven suggests that adopting a playful, child-like attitude in the workplace makes people happier. My comments on these entries can be found below.

Surveys of subjective well-being ask people to rate their happiness on a scale. Thus happiness is usually measured only by the first two elements in Ms. Rubin’s formula--“feeling good” and “feeling bad”-- as ongoing states of general well-being. Ms. Rubin, however, treats the two as transient emotions and suggests that there is a third component—“feeling right”—which influences people’s happiness. As an example she states, “You might choose to have a bad commute in order to live in a neighborhood with good schools […] but it’s worth it, because you feel right about your trade-off.” Feeling right seems to improve the parent’s well-being. But if one analyzes the parent’s behavior using utility theory, the effect of “feeling right” on happiness is no longer a unique force; instead it is included in the effect of “feeling good” about the decision. When the parent must choose between the good school and the good commute, he evaluates, though perhaps unconsciously, the amount of satisfaction he will derive from each option. His decision implies that the chosen option offers more utility or happiness. So Ms. Rubin’s conclusions differ from those of earlier studies only because she uses different definitions of “feeling good” and “feeling bad.”

Throughout the interview Mr. DeKoven stresses that “play” and “fun” are important in the workplace. He establishes a positive relationship between playing and happiness in stating that playing “makes us happier because it allows us to have fun together” and “because we are most thoroughly ourselves when we are playing, because we experience our health, emotionally, physically, socially.” These explanations seem logical, but Mr. DeKoven does not provide any statistical evidence in his interview to support his theory. Regression results showing the relationship between the amounts of time spent playing in the workplace and the workers’ job satisfaction, for instance, would perhaps make his argument clearer and more convincing. In addition, Mr. DeKoven only presents the advantages of playing and having fun at work from the employees’ point of view. It is not clear if the workers’ job satisfaction and their productivity are positively-related. Are happy workers indeed better workers? If there is empirical evidence showing that they are, then employers have an incentive to support “play” and “fun.”

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