Set-Point Theory and Societal Collapse: The Case of Russia
Can a society’s overall level of happiness change? Until recently, it was widely held that happiness fluctuates around set-points, so that neither individuals nor societies can lastingly increase their happiness. However, data from surveys carried out in Russia from 1982 to 2011 show that happiness fell substantially following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and has begun to rise again only recently. Additional data sources, including suicide rates and indices of negative affect expression, confirm these shifts. Contrary to set-point theory, we find that the recent increase has been driven as much by generational replacement as by mean reversion among individuals. The collapse of communism led to a permanent drop in subjective wellbeing among mid-life cohorts that was subsequently never fully recovered. Happiness can be substantially and permanently impacted by life-events, including those affecting society as a whole, and societal-level happiness can rise or fall over time as a result.