There are Free Lunches Statement of Intentions

There are Free Lunches: Behavioral Clues to Live Happy in the Economic World is a blog that intends to present updated and relevant information about the "hidden" and only recently uncovered dimensions of the economic science: the behavioral factors. With this blog we intend to promote in Europe and in the rest of the World, the top research articles and perspectives on behavioral economics, decision making, consumer behavior, and general behavioral science. We aim to be followed by journalists, academics, managers, civil servants, and everyone who wishes to improve their daily interaction with the economic world and consequently, their lives' happiness.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Is Happiness Overrated? (via Wall Street Journal)

The relentless pursuit of happiness may be doing us more harm than good.

Some researchers say happiness as people usually think of it - the experience of pleasure or positive feelings - is far less important to physical health than the type of well-being that comes from engaging in meaningful activity. Researchers refer to this latter state as "eudaimonic well-being."

Happiness research, a field known as "positive psychology," is exploding. Some of the newest evidence suggests that people who focus on living with a sense of purpose as they age are more likely to remain cognitively intact, have better mental health and even live longer than people who focus on achieving feelings of happiness.

In fact, in some cases, too much focus on feeling happy can actually lead to feeling less happy, researchers say.

The pleasure that comes with, say, a good meal, an entertaining movie or an important win for one's sports team - a feeling called "hedonic well-being" - tends to be short-term and fleeting. Raising children, volunteering or going to medical school may be less pleasurable day to day. But these pursuits give a sense of fulfillment, of being the best one can be, particularly in the long run.

If you have 3 minutes you can check everything here:

Monday, 24 October 2011

Richard Wilkinson: How economic inequality harms societies (via TED)

We feel instinctively that societies with huge income gaps are somehow going wrong. Richard Wilkinson charts the hard data on economic inequality, and shows what gets worse when rich and poor are too far apart: real effects on health, lifespan, even such basic values as trust.

If you have 16:55, you can check everything here:

How Behavioral Economics Can Help Cure the Health Care Crisis (via HBR)

Noncompliance with medical advice is one reason the U.S. health care is so costly. Yet it has received only cursory attention in the national health care debate — undoubtedly because politicians don't want to risk offending their constituents.

How bad is this problem? According to a study by the National Community Pharmacists Association, three of every four Americans don't take their drugs as directed. Forty-nine percent forget to take them; 31% don't fill their prescriptions and 29% stop taking their pills before the drugs run out! According to the New England Healthcare Institute, this costs the U.S. $290 billion per year (over 11% of our $2.5 trillion health care bill).

More waste comes from missed appointments. According to a cross-study analysis, no-show rates for doctor's visits run as high as 20% to 30%. Although there is no system-wide estimate of the effect, one study pegs the overall cost of each missed appointment to be over $700 to the health care system. Given the fact that in 2006 there were about 900 million appointments, the annual cost to the system is over $150 billion.

We think there is a tremendous opportunity to use behavioral economics (which recognizes that people aren't always rational) and relatively simple technology to create new tools that aid health organizations in managing consumers' behavior and that help patients improve their own actions. Even very small changes in patient population behaviors would have a dramatic impact on costs.

If you have 3 minutes, you can check everything here:

Do children make us happier? (via bakadesuyo)

Over the past few decades, social scientists like me have found consistent evidence that there is an almost zero association between having children and happiness. My analysis in the Journal of Socio-economics (Powdthavee, 2008) is a recent British example of parents and non-parents reporting the same levels of life satisfaction, on average.

But the warnings for prospective parents are even more stark than ‘it’s not going to make you happier’. Using data sets from Europe and America, numerous scholars have found some evidence that, on aggregate, parents often report statistically significantly lower levels of happiness (Alesina et al., 2004), life satisfaction (Di Tella et al., 2003), marital satisfaction (Twenge et al., 2003), and mental well-being (Clark & Oswald, 2002) compared with non-parents.

There is also evidence that the strains associated with parenthood are not only limited to the period during which children are physically and economically dependent. For example, Glenn and McLanahan (1981) found those older parents whose children have left home report the same or slightly less happiness than non-parents of similar age and status. Thus, what these results are suggesting is something very controversial – that having children does not bring joy to our lives.

How is this possible? Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert, and author of the best selling Stumbling on Happiness, addresses the issue:

The reason is that humans hold fast to a number of wrong ideas about what will make them happy. Ironically, these misconceptions may be evolutionary necessities. “Imagine a species that figured out that children don’t make you happy,” says Gilbert. “We have a word for that species: extinct. There is a conspiracy between genes and culture to keep us in the dark about the real sources of happiness. If a society realized that money would not make people happy, its economy would grind to a halt.”

If you have 3 minutes, you can check everything here:

Friday, 21 October 2011

Not so selfish (via Samuel Bowles)

A prescription for how human cooperation evolved will provoke much-needed debate about the origins of society, finds Peter Richerson.
Humans are capable of remarkable feats of cooperation. Warfare is an extreme example: when under attack, hundreds or even millions of people might join forces to provide a mutual defence. In A Cooperative Species, economists Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis update their ideas on the evolutionary origins of altruism. Containing new data and analysis, their book is a sustained and detailed argument for how genes and culture have together shaped our ability to cooperate.
Modern hunting and gathering societies offer clues as to how human cooperation evolved. They are typically organized into tribes of a few hundred to a few thousand people. Each tribe is composed of smaller bands of around 75 individuals united by bonds of kinship and friendship. Formalized leadership is often weak, but cooperation is buttressed by social norms and institutions, such as marriage, kinship and property rights. The tribal scale of social organization probably evolved by the late Pleistocene (126,000–11,700 years ago), or perhaps much earlier.

If you have 5 minutes, you can check everything here:

Sunday, 16 October 2011

The dark side of happiness (via Boston Globe)

You can be happy starting today! Don’t sit by any longer, while friends and co-workers enjoy the good life. Happiness is yours for the taking: All you have to do is reach out and grab it.

So goes the message of countless self-help books and motivational videos, and the mantra of many a life coach. It’s been the thesis of a long and growing list of magazine stories and newspaper articles. It’s the appeal of a good number of serious psychology books, based on scientific research.

The last decade has been a golden era in the rigorous study of happiness, with researchers defining, ever more precisely, what makes us happy. And while the scholarship is new, it builds on a long national tradition of articulating happiness as one of life’s fundamental goals. The pursuit of happiness has been right up there with life and liberty since the country’s foundation.

Now, though, there is gathering evidence that happiness is not what it may appear. A string of new studies suggests that the modern chase after happiness--and even happiness itself--can hurt us. Happy, it turns out, is not always the way you want to be. To be happy is to be more gullible. Happy people tend to think less concretely and systematically; they are less persuasive. A happy person is less likely to discern looming threats.

And the chase itself can backfire: The more you value happiness, it turns out, the more unhappy you will become. The problem, a team of psychologists reports, is that when you focus too much on happiness, you are disappointed when happy events--your birthday party, say--don’t deliver a bigger boost. Which makes you unhappy. Reach for happiness with both hands, and it will abandon you.

If you have 10 minutes, you can check everything here:

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Markets don’t think, feel or believe anything (via BusinessJournalism)

The markets believe Greece needs a restructuring.

No, they don’t.

Journalists have been told for decades to “humanize” their stories, so readers might better understand complicated subjects. That’s why when oil prices break through some imaginary “psychological barrier,” tag teams of reporters are dispatched to America’s gas stations to ask customers what they think it all means. The fact that these consumers generally have no idea has not stopped us from dumping millions of words’ worth of clichéd observations about “pain at the pump.”

Attempts to humanize are harmless enough. If writers and editors can’t rid their stories of valueless opinions from people who know nothing about what they’re being asked, they can rest easy knowing that most astute readers will just skip over them.

More insidious is the convention of writing about markets as though they were human beings, such as these examples:

There is alarm at Berlin’s inability to grasp how financial markets think.

The Fed’s hope is to relieve some of the pressure on institutions to sell at fire-sale prices, easing the strains on economic activity and making the credit markets feel more comfortable in buying mortgage bonds again.

Could Egypt destabilize global economy? Markets say no.

NYSE Euronext chief executive Duncan Niederauer can say something. The New York Stock Exchange, in a written statement or through an official, can say something. The market it enables cannot. The “market” is cold and lifeless. It couldn’t order a sandwich, let alone think about the “global economy.”

How we write and edit affects how people think. I can’t say it’s purposeful, but it’s safe to say that anthropomorphism (attributing human characteristics to things) can actually affect how real live people think about the markets.

If you have 3 minnutes you can check everything here:

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Habituation from Thought: Thinking Can Enhance Self-Control—in Eating and Elsewhere (Via Big Think)

Last December, a series of provocative studies appeared in Science. The finding: imagine eating a food, over and over and over, and you will eat less of it when you are actually given the opportunity to do so. At first glance, it seems completely counterintuitive. Don’t we get hungry when we watch The Food Network or read delicious descriptions in cookbooks, magazines, or novels? Doesn’t thinking about eating make us hungrier to eat? Yes. Absolutely. But these studies come with a twist, and that twist is repetition. Mind-numbing, frequent repetition, plain and simple.

If you have 5 minutes, you can read everything here: