Why Do Happiness and Satisfaction Not Coincide? a Rational Choice Approach to Social Psychology

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 09:45
Location: Hörsaal 27 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Carola HOMMERICH, Hokkaido University, Japan
Jun KOBAYASHI, Seikei University, Japan
It is often assumed that people who are satisfied with their lives will be happy as well. In the literature on subjective well-being (SWB), the two concepts are often used interchangeably. In this paper, we use data from a postal survey carried out in Western Tokyo in 2014 (two-stage stratified random sample, n = 498) to investigate whether the two concepts really match.

Dividing respondents into “happy/unhappy” and “satisfied/dissatisfied”, we find that while the general distribution patterns of the concepts are similar, for 14.8% of our sample evaluations of life satisfaction and happiness do not coincide. Especially large (53.3%) is the share of respondents who state to be “dissatisfied but happy”. To explain this mismatch, we draw on rational choice theory.

It has been argued in the literature, that while happiness is evaluated with a long-term perspective in mind, life satisfaction relates more to the present situation an individual finds him-/herself in. We hypothesize that, as a result, what determines evaluations of both also differs. To evaluate their happiness, individuals will refer more strongly to factors which can be expected to be stable over the life course (i.e. educational achievement), while life satisfaction is evaluated to a greater extent in relation to factors which might be subject to change (i.e. occupational status, income). Using logistic regression to test our assumptions, we find that sociodemographic determinants of the two concepts of SWB do indeed differ in the expected way: Educational achievement shows a strong relationship with evaluations of happiness, while life satisfaction varies to a larger degree by occupational status and income.

This supports our hypothesis that happiness and life satisfaction are evaluated with reference to different factors and the two concepts should, therefore, not be used interchangeably.