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Happiness and the law. At first glance, these two concepts seem to have little to do with each other. To some, they may even seem diametrically opposed. Yet one of the things the law strives for is to improve people’s quality of life. To do this, it must first predict what will make people happy. Yet happiness research shows that, time and time again, people err in predicting what will make them happy, overestimating the import of money and mistaking the circumstances to which they can and cannot adapt.  

Drawing on new research in psychology, neuroscience, and economics, the authors of Happiness and the Law assess how the law affects people’s quality of life—and how it can do so in a better way. Taking readers through some of the common questions about and objections to the use of happiness research in law and policy, they consider two areas in depth: criminal punishment and civil lawsuits. More broadly, the book proposes a comprehensive approach to assessing human welfare—well-being analysis—that is a valuable alternative to the strictly economically based cost-benefit analyses currently dominating how we evaluate public policy. The study of happiness is the next step in the evolution from traditional economic analysis of the law to a behavioral approach. Happiness and the Law will serve as the definitive, yet accessible, guide to understanding this new paradigm.

280 pages | 1 line drawing, 4 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2014

Economics and Business: Economics--General Theory and Principles

Law and Legal Studies: Law and Economics, Law and Society


“A brilliantly original treatise by the world’s foremost authorities on happiness and the law. Bronsteen, Buccafusco, and Masur use theories and data from psychology and economics to answer deep and difficult questions that have vexed thinkers for millennia. A smart and fascinating book!”

Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness

"Does happiness matter? Obviously. Does happiness matter to law? It certainly should. In this provocative, bold, and highly original book, Bronsteen, Buccafusco, and Masur argue that, in numerous areas, our legal system would do much better if it focused on what social scientists have learned about happiness and well-being. It’s a major contribution with implications not only for public policy but also for our daily lives."

Cass R. Sunstein, author of Valuing Life, Harvard University

Happiness and the Law is lucid, ambitious, and thought-provoking—a well-written, well-researched, rigorously reasoned, and stimulating contribution to the burgeoning area of the behavioral analysis of law. In taking and defending a strong position on subjective well-being as the best conception of human welfare and offering compelling potential applications to law, the book will become a reference in many scholarly debates.”

Neal R. Feigenson, Quinnipiac University School of Law

“Bronsteen, Buccafusco, and Masur have written a marvelous book—important, lucid, exciting, and delightful to read. . . . Once acquainted with the field of happiness studies through Happiness and the Law, no one could doubt that further work is not only worth pursuing but vitally important.”

University of Chicago Law Review

“Provocative and well reasoned, Happiness and the Law invites read­ers to consider the growing body of research on what improves lives and presents a model for how this data can realistically be applied to today’s policy decisions. . . . [The authors] provide an engaging discussion of a novel, yet prac­tical, model for policy analysis . . . [and] introduce enjoyable thought experi­ments for casual readers while providing substantial evidence for the value of well-being analysis and its possibilities for improving not only laws, but lives.”

Law Library Journal

“Happiness and the Law is an important book. Bronsteen, Buccafusco and Masur (BBM) provide a well-written, thought-provoking, rigorous introduction to hedonic psychology and its many potential applications in law and policy. Numerous lessons are already ripe for consumption by policymakers. Other ideas set the stage for a fruitful research agenda that will influence policy in years to come.”

New Rambler Review, Oren Bar-Gill

“[The authors] make the case that their data sets and methodology for measuring human happiness represent a ‘better proxy for quality of life than money’ and call on policy makers to expand funding for their research and either replace or at least supplement the findings of cost-benefit analyses with their ‘well-being analysis.’ . . . Recommended.”


An important book that makes a strong case for the relevance of happiness surveys in guiding policy making and legal doctrine.”

Journal of Economic Literature

“For decades, cost-benefit analysis has been the government’s primary method for evaluating law and regulatory options. . . . Bronsteen, Buccafusco, and Masur decry this model as insufficiently mindful of accurate understandings of human behavior. [They] make a convincing case that hedonic psychology may hold the key to a more nuanced understanding of how the law can and should shape and be shaped by human behavior.”

Harvard Law Review

“As the psychological study of happiness gains traction, the authors say judges and policymakers now have the data they need to experiment with new approaches to setting criminal punishments and guiding civil litigation.”

Stanford Magazine

“Bronsteen, Buccafusco, and Masur bring together a number of leading thinkers to explore the question of what makes up happiness—and what factors can be demonstrated to increase or decrease it.”

Law and Social Inquiry

Table of Contents

Introduction: What Happiness Has to Do with the Law

PART I.    Analyzing Laws’ Effects on Well-Being
CHAPTER 1.    Measuring Happiness
CHAPTER 2.    Well-Being Analysis
CHAPTER 3.    Well-Being Analysis vs. Cost-Benefit Analysis

PART II.    Viewing Two Core Areas of the Law through the Lens of Hedonics
CHAPTER 4.    Happiness and Punishment
CHAPTER 5.    Adaptation, Affective Forecasting, and Civil Litigation

PART III.    Well-Being
CHAPTER 6    Some Problems with Preference Theories and Objective Theories
CHAPTER 7    A Hedonic Theory of Well-Being
CHAPTER 8    Addressing Objections to the Hedonic Theory

Conclusion: The Future of Happiness and the Law


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