Does being ethical make you happier?

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In this paper I consider the question of whether ethical decision-making affects a person’s happiness. Using cross-country data from the World Values Survey, I find that people who agree that it is never justifiable to engage in ethically-questionable behaviors report that they are more satisfied with their life than people who are more tolerant of unethical conduct, even after controlling for other factors known to affect self-reported happiness. The size of the ethics effect is roughly similar to that of a modest increase in income, being married and attending church, while the effect is smaller than that of having poor health or being dissatisfied with one’s personal finances. These results are robust across the four countries studied (the US, Canada, Mexico and Brazil), although there is variation in the ethics and happiness relationship across countries. One implication of this study is that a consideration of a society’s ethical norms will improve our understanding of the subjective well-being of people.

Source: “Is the Just Man a Happy Man? An Empirical Study of the Relationship Between Ethics and Subjective Well-Being” from Department of Agricultural Economics Working Paper No. AEWP 2009-07

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