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Gabriel Leite Mota

Gabriel Leite Mota

Specialist in the economics of happiness

Gabriel Leite Mota
Gabriel Leite Mota

33-year-old Gabriel Leite Mota is the first Portuguese person to hold a doctorate in the Economics of Happiness. The title was awarded to him in 2010 by the Faculty of Economics of Porto (FEP), the institution where got his first degree in 2002. He teaches Economics, Politics and Happiness at ISPA – the Higher Institute of Social and Political Sciences and he’s a researcher at the Applied Microeconomics Research Centre of the University of Minho. He is also a columnist and commentator. His research interests range from the economics of well-being to behavioural and experimental economics. He belongs to an elite group of economists who are stirring up the established political and economic order which is centred on the creation of wealth, and he says that the most important thing is for countries to focus on satisfying their people. Is this just a new-fangled idea? Not at all… he goes back to the epistemological roots of the word “economics”, which is derived from the Greek Oikos, meaning House, and Nomos, meaning administer, and can be translated as Government of the House. The essence of the concept is therefore to manage and administer resources well and distribute them as equitably as possible in order to satisfy people’s needs and those of the common home. It is human well-being that should lie at the heart of accounting procedures.

The economics of happiness has been gaining influence and prestige as a scientific field from Harvard to the London School of Economics. Gabriel Leite Mota is another of the voices in the body of unorthodox opinion which goes beyond the study of economic growth, inflation or unemployment per se, and tries to understand how these variables correlate with indicators of happiness. These are, above all, indicators of subjective well-being that originate in the question: to what extent are you happy with your life? It distinguishes itself from excessive economic modelling, based on sometimes unrealistic and static hypotheses of the ceteris paribus (all things being equal) type, and aims to work in synchronisation with human reactions analysed in real situations. They don’t restrict their analysis to gross domestic product (GDP) which is the measure, par excellence, of economic growth and wealth, the keystone for economic decision-making in the traditional economic paradigm, but they analyse indicators which help them to quantify happiness. One such is GDH – Gross Domestic Happiness. They create rankings that list countries in accordance with their degree of happiness, such as the Happy Planet Index and databases like the World Data Base of Happiness, which brings together data about happiness from all over the world. It provides a more robust matrix of information and requires a more refined analysis. Let’s take the USA. It has the highest GDP in the world, one of the highest rates of obesity in the world, the death penalty, a non-universal health care system and life expectancy lower than that of Portugal.

The researcher’s conclusions give scientific support to the idea that “economic growth is not synonymous with well-being”. He concludes that the richer the country, the greater people’s tendency to be unhappy; in other words, happiness based on growing wealth increases in inverse proportion to the latter, and this reaches a point where wealth no longer generates happiness. To what extent are we unable to make ourselves happier with the resources we have? In the end, it’s well worth studying happiness!

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