Preventing avoidable unhappiness should be given priority as a policy goal – even more so than maximizing happiness. Using a cross-sectional multi-country dataset with 57 thousand observations from 29 European countries, we show that unhappiness varies a great deal more across social groups than (high levels of) happiness does.
Lasting unhappiness could be regarded as an undesirable personal condition as such, similar to poverty or social exclusion, and reducing it needs to be a key welfare state objective. Policies need to focus on reducing unhappiness, partly on ethical grounds, partly because it costs a lot to us in economic terms (as much as about 10% of GDP). Private misery is therefore a public issue.