The Happiness-Energy Paradox: Energy Use is Unrelated to Subjective Well-Being

Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn, Micah Altman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Earth’s per capita energy use continues to grow, despite technological advances and widespread calls for reduction in energy consumption. The negative environmental consequences are well known: resource depletion, pollution, and global warming. However many remain reluctant to cut energy consumption because of the widespread, although, implicit, belief that a nation’s well being depends on its energy consumption. This article systematically examines the evidential support for the relationship between energy use and subjective well-being at the societal level, by integrating data from multiple sources, collected at multiple levels of government, and spanning four decades. This analysis reveals, surprisingly, that the most common measure of subjective well-being, life satisfaction, is unrelated to energy use -- whether measured at the national, state or county level. The nil relationship between happiness and energy use is reminiscent of the well-known Easterlin Paradox, however the causal mechanisms responsible to each remain in question. We discuss the possible causes for the Happiness-Energy paradox and potential policy implications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1055-1067
Number of pages13
JournalApplied Research in Quality of Life
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


  • Energy consumption
  • Energy intensity of economy
  • Energy use
  • Happiness
  • Life satisfaction
  • Subjective well-being (SWB)
  • Sustainability


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