Holier and happier than thou?

Are ethical people happier? Many philosophers have claimed this, from Plato and Aristotle onwards. A new study claims it is empirically true, or more exactly that ethical people are more satisfied with life.

The 2009 study looked at cross-country data from the World Values Survey from the US, Canada, Mexico and Brazil. It looked at  people who agreed with the view that it is never justifiable to engage in ethically questionable behaviours like avoiding fares on public transports, cheating on taxes or taking bribes (35%) compared the rest. Controlling for things like gender, income, age, health, being married etc. the study found being ‘ethical’ by this standard increased the likeliehood of being very satisfied with life fairly significantly. The effect size is like a modest increase in income. A good reason to try to become a better person, or (as the paper suggests) for governments that are trying to increase subjective well being to do it by improving moral conduct… or is it?

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