What is happiness

As Diener and colleagues correctly note, 'A widely presumed component of the good life is happiness. Unfortunately, the nature of happiness has not been defined in a uniform way. Happiness can mean pleasure, life satisfaction, positive emotions, a meaningful life, or a feeling of contentment, among other concepts' (Diener and Seligman 2004).

Economists do not even like the question: 'what is happiness?'. To them happiness is not a concept clearly distinct from pleasure, satisfaction or welfare. Ng (1997) defines happiness as 'welfare', for Oswald (1997) happiness means 'pleasure' or 'satisfaction', and Easterlin, is even too explicit: 'I use the terms happiness, subjective well-being, satisfaction, utility, well-being, and welfare interchangeably' (2001, p. 465). To Frey and Stutzer (2005): 'Happiness research in economics takes reported subjective well-being as a proxy measure for utility' (p. 116). The sociologist Ruut Veenhoven 'use[s] the terms "happiness" or "life satisfaction" for comprehensive judgment' (2005, p. 245, original emphasis). Happiness, by economists, is not generally defined, but empirically measured, on the basis of the answers to questionnaires that ask people: 'how happy are you?'. The WVS questionnaires ask people about both happiness ('how happy are you?') and life satisfaction ('how satisfied are you with your life?'), both of which are also often used in academic analyses about people's happiness. The Eurobarometer of the European Commission measures Europeans' self-evaluation of life satisfaction, and these data are often used as synonymous of self-reported happiness in economic analyses (see Oswald 1997). Ronald Inglehart, the WVS coordinator, uses the Subjective Well-Being (SWB) Index which is a combination of the responses to 'happiness' and the responses to 'life-satisfaction' questions.10

Some economists (Frank 1997, 2005; Layard 2005) use the SWB category simply as a synonym of happiness, relying on psychologists for the definition. Actually, in psychological studies the story is more complex. In psychology, experimental studies on happiness began in the 1950s, and, in general, psychologists use the expression 'happiness' with more precision than economists. Psychologists distinguish among: (a) 'life satisfaction', which is a cognitive element; (b) 'affection', the affective component; and (c) SWB, defined as a 'state of general well-being, synthetic, of long duration, which includes both the affective and cognitive component' (Ahuvia and Friedman 1998, p. 153).

Ed Diener, for example, proposes on the basis of abundant empirical evidence an SWB hierarchical model whose four components are: (i) pleasant emotions (joy, contentment, happiness, love and so on); (ii) unpleasant emotions (sadness, anger, worry, stress and so on); (iii) global life judgement (life evaluation, fulfilment, meaning, success and so on); and (iv) domain satisfaction (marriage, work, health, leisure and so on).11 In this approach, SWB comprises all these components, therefore, happiness is considered to be a narrower concept than SWB, and different from life satisfaction: life satisfaction and happiness are both considered to be components of SWB - as in the Senian capability approach where happiness is just a component of a 'good life'. In particular, life satisfaction reflects individuals' perceived distance from their aspirations (Campbell et al. 1976). Happiness results from a balance between positive and negative affect (Bradburn 1969).12 SWB is instead defined as 'a general evaluation of a person's life' (Diener and Seligman 2004). In general, 'the term subjective well-being emphasizes an individual's own assessment of his or her own life - not the judgment of "experts" - and includes satisfaction (both in general and satisfaction with specific domains), pleasant affect, and low negative affect' (ibid.). For this reason, 'SWB is not a unitary dimension, and there is no single index that can capture what it means to be happy' (ibid.). In this approach to SWB, 'to be' happy is considered to be different from 'to feel' happy: SWB is a synonym of 'being happy', a concept close to the Aristotelian approach to happiness as eudaimonia, whereas concepts such as 'satisfaction' and 'happiness' belong to 'feeling' happy.

The result of the above discussion is that we should emphasize that in psychological studies of happiness we do find a tension between a 'hedonic' idea of happiness and a 'eudaimonic' one. In the hedonic approach, happiness is the result of avoiding pain and seeking pleasure; on the contrary, according to the eudaimonic approach, happiness arises as people function and interact within society, an approach that places emphasis on non-material pursuits such as genuine interpersonal relationships and intrinsic motivations (Deci and Ryan 2001).

More precisely, hedonism (Kahneman et al. 1999, 2003) reflects the view that well-being consists of pleasure or happiness: 'Hedonism, as a view of well-being, has thus been expressed in many forms and has varied from a relatively narrow focus on bodily pleasures to a broad focus on appetites and self-interests' (Deci and Ryan 2001, p. 144). In 1999, Kahneman et al.

announced the existence of a new field of psychology. The title of their book, Well-being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology, clearly suggests that, within their paradigm, the terms 'well-being' and 'hedonism' are essentially equivalent.13

The second view, (eudaimonism), both as ancient and as current, claims that well-being consists of more than just hedonic or subjective happiness: 'Despite the currency of the hedonic view, many philosophers, religious masters, and visionaries, from both the East and West, have denigrated happiness per se as a principal criterion of well-being' (Deci and Ryan 2001, p. 145). It lies instead in the actualization of human potential. Due to a close continuity with Aristotelian ethics, this view has been called 'eudai-monism' conveying the belief that

[W]ell-being consists of fulfilling or realizing one's daimon or true nature. The two traditions - hedonism and eudaimonism - are founded on distinct views of human nature and of what constitutes a good society. Accordingly, they ask different questions concerning how developmental and social processes relate to well-being, and they implicitly or explicitly prescribe different approaches to the enterprise of living. (Ibid., p. 143).

Ryff and Singer (1998, 2000), also drawing from Aristotle, describe well-being not in terms of attaining pleasure, but as 'the striving for perfection that represents the realization of one's true potential' (Ryff 1995, p. 100). Carol Ryff has even proposed the idea of psychological well-being (PWB) as distinct from subjective well-being: 'Whereas the SWB tradition formulates well-being in terms of overall life satisfaction and happiness, the PWB tradition draws heavily on formulation of human development and existential challenges of life' (Keyes et al. 2002, p. 1008).14 Another, complementary, way of presenting this tension is to distinguish between an ethical approach to happiness (the Aristotelian) and a purely subjectivist one based on psychological experience (the hedonic). In fact, the philosophical reference point for the hedonistic approach is Bentham (or Epicurus), while Aristotle is the father of the eudaimonic/ethical one. Given the importance of Aristotle's theory of eudaimonia in the context of our research, it is worthwhile examining in greater depth, his theory which is what we shall do at the beginning of the historical analysis (Part I). The next section examines the main explanations offered today for the 'Easterlin paradox'.

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