When I was in college, a classmate of mine working two jobs mentioned that his/her job working at at a local fast food restaurant was causing undue stress and dissatisfaction.

My response was to ask "What is your price on Happiness?"

If your income from the other job can satisfy your basic needs (rent, food, clothing, etc.) and the income from your fast food job was 'extra' aren't you valuing your happiness at $10/hr?

In a short time I learned that my classmate decided to quit the fast-food position. But in hindsight, I never gave much thought as to my advice.

With this said, can it be realistically said that a price can be put onto happiness?


1 Answer 1


There are several approaches to this problem, none of them accurate as the human happiness is internal subjective experience and thus not verifiable by people other than the afflicted (it is not intersubjectively verifiable). Please see below several methodologies for pricing the non-economical values such as happiness developed by economists:

Willingness to pay

This problem can be viewed as ‘what is the market price of an item not sold on the market’. To solve it, economists can look whether happiness cannot be, at least in theory, bought on the market. For example, if a pharmaceutical company wants to test some drug that causes unhappines and has to pay USD 1000 for a person to take the test and willingly be unhappy at some level, then the price of this level of unhappiness is USD 1000.

Cost-base valuation

This can be applied when the lack of happiness is directly connected with measurable expenses, like therapy bills, antidepressant drugs, lost income, etc. In this methodology, if a decrease of a happiness is connected with cost of USD 1000 in some period, its value in this period can be measured at not less than USD 1000.

Comparability with damages won in courts

In this method you must find a statistical sample of court judgments, in which compensation was granted for non-pecuniary damages (e.g. for work related undue stress and dissatisfaction) under similar circumstances. As the circumstances can never be the same in different cases (happiness always is subjective and have different economical and social context for each individual), you rank the judgments (e.g. from the weakest to the strongest undue stress and dissatisfaction) and try to place your case on the X axis against court cases. This should result in a point or a range at which unhappiness at question should be valued.

The methods above are connected with many technical problems and are highly criticized. For example, such issues are usually tackled in economics by analyzing the relationship between the marginal cost and one unit of happiness. But what would be a unit of happiness? I recommend further reading of some legal papers on this issue as well as Steven Kelman criticizm in his paper ‘Cost-Benefit Analysis: An Ethical Critique’, where he argues against putting dolar values on non-market benefits and costs at all.

Hope this helps.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 for applying non-market valuation techniques. Worth noting however that the question asks about price (which suggests transactions) rather than value. $\endgroup$ Nov 26, 2017 at 23:22
  • $\begingroup$ I thought about it interchangeably, but value would have the more precise meaning. $\endgroup$
    – Bluebird
    Nov 27, 2017 at 0:55
  • $\begingroup$ I would argue that the first technique is pure pricing method, second is debatable (at least its a starting point for a pricing method) and the third is a pure valuation. But, since the real life application of those three would be in court cases rather than in transactions, I think such approach is justified. $\endgroup$
    – Pawel Kam
    Nov 27, 2017 at 1:07

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