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Development as Happiness: The Subjective Perception of Happiness and UNDP’s Analysis of Poverty, Wealth and Development

  • Schimmel J
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Abstract

This chapter examines to what extent the concept of happiness is complementary to the United Nations Development Program's (UNDP) human development approach in the evaluation of poverty, wealth and development. The deconstruction of UNDP's discourse on and its measurement of these concepts show that its perspective is highly arbitrary. Poverty is exclusively defined as lack and state of ill-being, inferior to wealth regarded as a state of abundance and well-being. Development then becomes a teleological process trying to promote well-being through abundance. Yet, this external perspective of UNDP on well-being is questioned by the subjective perception of the individuals themselves. Happiness studies---which define happiness as the degree to which an individual judges the overall quality of his life-as-a-whole favorably---prove that higher levels of UNDP's development indicators are not necessarily better for subjective well-being. Despite methodological and conceptual problems, happiness studies discover that the individuals' perception of poverty, wealth and development can differ considerably from UNDP's perspective. Increased income, better objective health and higher levels of education do not automatically lead to greater happiness. Furthermore, additional dimensions essential for human happiness are detected by the research, yet not taken into account by UNDP. A country ranking comparison between the two approaches confirms the different visions of well-being. The integration of a happiness indicator in its analysis of poverty, wealth and development is thus indispensable for UNDP in order to correct its analytical and also practical approach to development.

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Schimmel, J. (2013). Development as Happiness: The Subjective Perception of Happiness and UNDP’s Analysis of Poverty, Wealth and Development (pp. 281–302). https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-5702-8_15

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