Exploring the relationship between happiness, objective and subjective well-being: evidence from rural Thailand

Exploring the relationship between happiness, objective and subjective well-being: evidence from rural Thailand

Is economic security the key to satisfy well-being? A case study of Thailand

Well-being is a broad concept ranging from subjective accounts of individuals' happiness to fulfilment or satisfaction of a given list of capabilities, functionings or needs. Although income has been the objective indicator of well-being most commonly investigated by economists, there are other objective indicators that are frequently used to assess society's well-being to which attention needs to be paid.

This paper approaches well-being following the tradition of happiness in economics, where happiness and satisfaction are taken as proxies for subjective well-being. It also relates indicators of basic needs with happiness and domains satisfaction contributing to the reconciliation of the subjective and objective approaches to well-being.

The study draws on Thai data collected in rural communities through a resources and needs questionnaire, and finds the following:

  • rural Thailand shows some deficiencies in basic needs satisfaction - high incidence of chronic illnesses, scarce and unevenly available water, higher degree of illiteracy and food shortages
  • objective indicators of basic need satisfaction such as food shortages, chronic ill health and wealth are shown to have a significant impact on household happiness and domain satisfaction
  • perceptions of the economic position of the household in comparison with the rest of the community emerge as a key determinant of happiness and domain satisfaction.

The authors are keen to emphasise that more work needs to be done in the exploration of most of the above relationships and causalities - information about income and expenditures is key to producing a more accurate assessment of material well-being in these areas.