Layard, Richard (2005). Happiness:  Lessons from a new science , Penguin .

  • This is my favorite book on the topic of economics and happiness.  Very accessible and easy to read, Layard describes the causes of happiness and the means we have to affect it.  It details what we should do differently if we really want to be happier and describes what conditions generate actual happiness.

Frey, Bruno S. and Alois Stutzer (2002). Happiness & economics: How the economy and institutions affect human well-being, Princeton Press .

  • Ufrey and Stutzer believe that tility theory, the basis for all economic inquiry, has no material content, yet it does allow some form of analysis of human behavior.  Their book is one of the first attempts to link happiness and economics and how utility theory and happiness are related through income, unemployment, and inflation.   In addition, happiness is not just a purely personal issue, rather individual happiness is determined by society.  A more rigorous book than Layard’s Happiness book.
Kasser,  Tim (2003).  The high price of materialism. The MIT Press.
  • Kasser, one of our 2006 Brown Symposium speakers, argues that a materialistic orientation toward the world contributes to low self-esteem, depression, antisocial behavior and even a greater tendency to get headaches, backaches, sore muscles, and sore throats.  Drawing on sources as diverse as dream analysis and game theory, Kasser argues that when we feel more vulnerable, we exhibit more sharply defined materialistic tendencies. 

Easterbrook, Gregg (2003). The progress paradox : How life gets better while people feel worse.  Random House.

  • Easterbrook sees a widespread case of cognitive dissonance in the West.  Wages have soared over the past fifty years and regular citizens own large homes, new cars, and luxuries aplenty.  So why do people report a sense that things are getting steadily worse and that catastrophe is imminent?  He presents a few psychological rationales, including "choice anxiety," where the vastness of society's options is a burden, and "abundance denial," where people somehow manage to convince themselves that they are deprived of material comforts. Easterbrook argues  that the sooner we accept how good we have it, the better off the whole world will be, because if we would just realize that we have this wealth, we could be using it to alleviate hunger, provide health care for the millions who lack it, and otherwise address the ills that actually do exist.

Schartz, Barry (2005).   The paradox of choice: Why more is less.  Harper Perennial.

  • Schartz says we  face far too many choices on a daily basis, providing an illusion of a multitude of options when few honestly different ones actually exist.  Drawing extensively on his own work in the social sciences,  he shows that a bewildering array of choices floods our exhausted brains, ultimately restricting instead of freeing us. We normally assume that more options will make us happier, but Schwartz shows the opposite is true, arguing that having all these choices actually goes so far as to erode our psychological well-being.

Schor, Juliet (1999).  The overspent American: Why we want what we don't need.  Harper.

  • Schor notes that, despite rising wealth and incomes, Americans do not feel any better off. In fact, we tell pollsters we do not have enough money to buy everything we need. And we are almost as likely to say so if we make $85,000 a year as we are if we make $35,000.  Schor believes "keeping up with the Joneses" is no longer enough for today's media-savvy office workers. We set our sights on the lifestyles of those higher up the organizational chart.  Schor offers an analysis of why many Americans feel driven and unhappy despite our success.  As an alternative, she profiles several "downshifters" who've taken up voluntary simplicity in search of a more satisfying way of life.