René Millán (Sociology,Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)

Saamah Abdallah (Psychology, New Economics Foundation).

Mariano Rojas (PI) (Economics, Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla)

Eduardo Wills (Organizational Behavior, Universidad de los Andes, Bogota)

Olbeth Hansberg (Philosophy, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)

In the happiness literature there is something called ‘the Latin American paradox’: it makes reference to the fact that Latin Americans report life satisfaction levels that are abnormally high with respect to their income levels. Some researchers have even argued that these high satisfaction levels reflect a ‘cultural bias’. This proposal is based on the idea that paradoxes do not exist, only wrong theories. Furthermore, it argues that the ‘cultural-bias’ term is inherently wrong because culture should never be considered as a bias but as a determinant of value.

The research project argues that that the paradox emerges from wrong theories that confuse persons with consumers and that, in consequence, end up associating people’s well-being to income and purchasing-power indicators. By focusing on economic indicators alone these theories neglect important aspects in the life of people, such as their interpersonal relations and their spiritual beliefs -which provide support to their sense of purpose in life. This research project relies on secondary and original data to study the importance these neglected areas play in explaining high life satisfaction levels in Latin America. The nature of the relationship between interpersonal relations, spiritual beliefs and people’s subjective well-being is further studied by deeper analyses of satisfaction in domains of life as well as of affective and evaluative experiences of being well. Particular attention is given to the relationship between values and sense of purpose in life and affects–which are important for Latin Americans satisfaction with life. Both qualitative and quantitative approaches are used. The Latin American situation is contrasted with that of other countries, with deeper qualitative studies in two European countries.

An interdisciplinary team comprising an economist, a sociologist, a philosopher, an experimental psychologist, and a development-studies expert is assembled; all team members have direct knowledge of Latin American and substantial expertise in subjective well-being research.

The project does not only aim to contribute to the happiness literature; it also aims to influence the public-policy and development-strategy debates. Lessons from the Latin American way of attaining happiness are important for the development debate and they can complement the efforts of environmental initiatives which are interested in expanding people’s well-being at little or no cost to the planet.