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