Who doesn’t think they’d be hap­pier if they had more money to spend on them­selves or donate to others? That was the ques­tion Boston public radio host Robin Young posed to an audi­ence of about 200 com­mu­nity mem­bers at the Museum of Sci­ence last Thursday.

In an event hosted by Northeastern’s Affec­tive Sci­ence Insti­tute, Young mod­er­ated a panel dis­cus­sion on the sci­ence and eco­nomics of hap­pi­ness, dubbed “hap­pi­nomics” by the media.

Emo­tional sci­ence is on the rise,” North­eastern psy­chology pro­fessor David DeSteno said in an opening talk on the def­i­n­i­tion of affec­tive sci­ence. “North­eastern is hoping to build a hub in Boston and beyond to study how emo­tional states affect people at all levels.” From eco­nomics to bul­lying to the way we design new prod­ucts, he said, our emo­tions affect the way we think and act.

Thursday’s event was the first in a series of lec­tures to be hosted by the ASI addressing var­ious aspects of affec­tive sci­ence. Psychologist-​​turned-​​economist Michael Norton of Har­vard Busi­ness School, Cor­nell Uni­ver­sity econ­o­mist Robert Frank and psy­chology pro­fessor Daniel Gilbert of Har­vard Uni­ver­sity each pre­sented their views and data on hap­pi­ness as the crowd atten­tively lis­tened for the secret to a life of bliss.

It turns out the major cor­re­lates are exactly the things you’d expect — be kind to others, make more friends. It’s not ‘stand on your head and hum through your nose,’” said Gilbert, whose research con­sis­tently sug­gests that humans “mis­pre­dict” what will make us happy.

So it’s no wonder that Norton’s data sur­prises many of us — giving money away results in hap­pier research sub­jects than when they spend it on them­selves. “It’s strange to look at whether money will make people happy without knowing what they do with the money,” he said.

Regard­less of absolute finan­cial value, Frank said, our hap­pi­ness is deter­mined by how it com­pares to that of our neigh­bors: “The inescapable influ­ence of con­text shapes our eval­u­a­tions of the things we have,” he said.

Col­lec­tively, these per­spec­tives help explain why, despite the fact that our nation has more money to spend — and is spending it more — than ever before, the United States as a whole has not grown hap­pier over the last few decades, according to Frank.

Young reminded the audi­ence that Den­mark is con­sis­tently ranked among the hap­piest coun­tries. “So what are the Danes doing right?” she asked the panel. Their response? The Danes have very low income inequality and very pos­i­tive atti­tudes toward government.

In the latter half of the event, Young moved the dis­cus­sion from data and results to what we can do with those results as a society. Frank sug­gested imposing incen­tives and reg­u­la­tions to “tamp down spending on steroids,” while Norton sug­gested not just encour­aging cit­i­zens to take the actions that are shown to make us hap­pier (spending money on others) but dis-​​incentivizing the behav­iors that won’t.

Gilbert responded with an impor­tant ques­tion of his own: “Why are we leaping imme­di­ately from sci­ence to what rules should we impose on people based on the sci­ence?” He sug­gested a very simple solu­tion — edu­ca­tion. If people learn about these research find­ings, per­haps they’ll be more likely to pursue healthier emo­tional behaviors.

The direc­tors of the North­eastern Affec­tive Sci­ence Insti­tute agree; this event rep­re­sents their ini­tial step of edu­ca­tional out­reach to the public regarding the sci­ence of emotion.

The hap­pi­nomics event nat­u­rally raises the ques­tion of whether the United States should con­tinue to pursue a higher GDP or adopt some other stan­dard like Gross National Hap­pi­ness, which has been embraced by coun­tries as dis­parate as Bhutan and the United Kingdom. Sci­ence, not opinion, is likely to pro­vide the best answers.