Leisure Beliefs and The Subjective Well-Being of Nations

The Journal of Positive Psychology

Authors: Dr. Lucía Macchia

Lucía Macchia & Ashley Whillans


The policies of most governments focus on improving material prosperity. Yet, wealth only weakly predicts well-being. It is therefore important to understand whether factors other than money shape the happiness of nations. Here, we construct a data set of 79 countries (= 220,000) and explore whether differences in the prioritization of time (leisure) vs. money (work) explain cross-country differences in happiness. Consistent with our predictions, countries whose citizens value leisure more than work report higher subjective well-being at the country and individual level. These effects hold in high and low GDP countries. Critically, we find evidence for a novel mechanism: people who value leisure over work are less negatively impacted by financial instability. Moving beyond individual welfare, the value that nations place on leisure vs. work fundamentally shapes happiness.

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