Happiness and environmental quality.
PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science.
Subjective wellbeing — happiness — is of increasing interest to economists, including environmental economists. There are several reasons for thinking that environmental quality (EQ),
deﬁned as high levels of environmental goods and low levels of environmental ‘bads’, will be
positively related to happiness.
Quantitative evidence on this remains limited, however. Some papers use cross-sectional data
aggregated at country level, but it is open to doubt whether these aggregated measures reﬂect
individuals’ real EQ exposures. Other papers use individual-level data, but in general have spatial
data at very coarse resolution, and consider a limited range of EQ variables, exclusively around
This thesis reports two related strands of work. The ﬁrst designs, implements and analyses data
from two new cross-sectional surveys. It builds on earlier work by using spatial data at very high
resolution, and advanced Geographical Information Systems (GIS) techniques; by simultaneously
considering multiple EQ characteristics, around both homes and workplaces; and by investigating
the sensitivity of results to the choice of happiness indicator.
The second strand develops and implements a new methodology focused on individuals’ momentary experiences of the environment. It extends a protocol known by psychologists as the
Experience Sampling Method (ESM) to incorporate satellite (GPS) location data. Using an app for
participants’ own smartphones, called Mappiness, it collects a panel data set comprising millions
of geo-located responses from thousands of volunteers. EQ indicators are again joined to this
data set using GIS.
Results of the ﬁrst strand of work are mixed, but support some links between happiness and the
accessibility of natural environments, providing quantitative (including monetary) estimates of
their strength. The second strand demonstrates that individuals are signiﬁcantly and substantially
happier outdoors in natural environments than continuous urban ones. It introduces a valuable
new line of evidence on this question, which has great potential for future development.
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