Biohappiness, or bio-happiness, is the elevation of wellbeing in humans through biological methods, including germline engineering through screening embryos with genes associated with a high level of happiness, or the use of drugs intended to raise baseline levels of happiness.
The object is to facilitate the achievement of a state of “better than well.”
Proponents of biohappiness include the transhumanist philosopher David Pearce, whose goal is to end the suffering of all sentient beings and the Canadian ethicist Mark Alan Walker. Walker has sought to defend biohappiness on the grounds that happiness ought to be of interest to a wide range of moral theorists; and that hyperthymia, a state of high baseline happiness, is associated with better outcomes in health and human achievement.
The concept of biohappiness also has its high-profile critics, including Leon Kass, who served on the President’s Council on Bioethics during the presidency of George W. Bush.
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The economics of happiness or happiness economics is the theoretical, qualitative and quantitative study of happiness and quality of life, including positive and negative affects, well-being, life satisfaction and related concepts – typically tying economics more closely than usual with other social sciences, like sociology and psychology, as well as physical health. It typically treats subjective happiness-related measures, as well as more objective quality of life indices, rather than wealth, income or profit, as something to be maximised.
Refer to Psychometrics, Well-Being Contributing Factors, and Quality of Life.
The field has grown substantially since the late 20th century, for example by the development of methods, surveys and indices to measure happiness and related concepts, as well as quality of life. Happiness findings have been described as a challenge to the theory and practice of economics. Nevertheless, furthering gross national happiness, as well as a specified Index to measure it, has been adopted explicitly in the Constitution of Bhutan in 2008, to guide its economic governance.
The subject may be categorised in various ways, depending on specificity, intersection, and cross-classification. For example, within the Journal of Economic Literature classification codes, it has been categorized under:
Welfare economics at JEL: D63 – Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
Health, education, and welfare at JEL: I31 – General Welfare; Basic needs; Living standards; Quality of life; Happiness
Demographic economics at JEL:J18 – Public policy.
Given its very nature, reported happiness is subjective. It is difficult to compare one person’s happiness with another’s. It can be especially difficult to compare happiness across cultures. However, many happiness economists believe they have solved this comparison problem. Cross-sections of large data samples across nations and time demonstrate consistent patterns in the determinants of happiness.
Happiness is typically measured using subjective measures – e.g. self-reported surveys – and/or objective measures. One concern has always been the accuracy and reliability of people’s responses to happiness surveys. Objective measures such as lifespan, income, and education are often used as well as or instead of subjectively reported happiness, though this assumes that they generally produce happiness, which while plausible may not necessarily be the case. The terms quality of life or well-being are often used to encompass these more objective measures.
Macro-econometric happiness has been gauged by some as Gross National Happiness, following Sicco Mansholt’s 1972 introduction of the measure, and by others as a Genuine Wealth index. Anielski in 2008 wrote a reference definition on how to measure five types of capital:
Happiness, well-being, or satisfaction with life, was seen as unmeasurable in classical and neo-classical economics. Van Praag was the first person who organized large surveys in order to explicitly measure welfare derived from income. He did this with the Income Evaluation Question (IEQ). This approach is called the Leyden School. It is named after the Dutch university where this approach was developed. Other researchers included Arie Kapteyn and Aldi Hagenaars.
Some scientists claim that happiness can be measured both subjectively and objectively by observing the joy centre of the brain lit up with advanced imaging, although this raises philosophical issues, for example about whether this can be treated as more reliable than reported subjective happiness.
GDP and GNP
Typically national financial measures, such as gross domestic product (GDP) and gross national product (GNP), have been used as a measure of successful policy. There is a significant association between GDP and happiness, with citizens in wealthier nations being happier than those in poorer nations. In 2002, researchers argued that this relationship extends only to an average GDP per capita of about $15,000. In the 2000s, several studies have obtained the opposite result, so this Easterlin paradox is controversial.
Historically, economists have said that well-being is a simple function of income. However, it has been found that once wealth reaches a subsistence level, its effectiveness as a generator of well-being is greatly diminished. Happiness economists hope to change the way governments view well-being and how to most effectively govern and allocate resources given this paradox.
In 2010, Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton found that higher earners generally reported better life satisfaction, but people’s day-to-day emotional well-being only rose with earnings until a threshold annual household pre-tax income of $75,000.
Other factors have been suggested as making people happier than money. A short term course of psychological therapy is 32 times more cost effective at increasing happiness than simply increasing income.
Scholars at the University of Virginia, University of British Columbia and Harvard University released a study in 2011 after examining numerous academic paper in response to an apparent contradiction: “When asked to take stock of their lives, people with more money report being a good deal more satisfied. But when asked how happy they are at the moment, people with more money are barely different than those with less.” Published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, the study is entitled “If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy, Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right” and included the following eight general recommendations:
Spend money on “experiences” rather than goods.
Donate money to others, including charities, rather than spending it solely on oneself.
Spend small amounts of money on many small, temporary pleasures rather than less often on larger ones.
Don’t spend money on “extended warranties and other forms of overpriced insurance.”
Adjust one’s mindset to “pay now, consume later,” instead of “consume now, pay later.”
Exercise circumspection about the day-to-day consequences of a purchase beforehand.
Rather than buying products that provide the “best deal,” make purchases based on what will facilitate well-being.
Seek out the opinions of other people who have prior experience of a product before purchasing it.
In their “Unhappy Cities” paper, Edward Glaeser, Joshua Gottlieb and Oren Ziv examined the self-reported subjective well-being of people living in American metropolitan areas, particularly in relation to the notion that “individuals make trade-offs among competing objectives, including but not limited to happiness.” The researchers findings revealed that people living in metropolitan areas where lower levels of happiness are reported are receiving higher real wages, and they suggest in their conclusion that “humans are quite understandably willing to sacrifice both happiness and life satisfaction if the price is right.”
Ruut Veenhoven claimed that social security payments do not seem to add to happiness. This may be due to the fact that non-self-earned income (e.g., from a lottery) does not add to happiness in general either. Happiness may be the mind’s reward for a useful action. However, Johan Norberg of CIS, a free enterprise economy think tank, presents a hypothesis that as people who think that they themselves control their lives are happier, paternalist institutions may decrease happiness.
An alternative perspective focuses on the role of the welfare state as an institution that improves quality of life not only by increasing the extent to which basic human needs are met, but also by promoting greater control of one’s life by limiting the degree to which individuals find themselves at the mercy of impersonal market forces that are indifferent to the fate of individuals. This is the argument suggested by the US political scientist Benjamin Radcliff, who has presented a series of papers in peer-reviewed scholarly journals demonstrating that a more generous welfare state contributes to higher levels of life satisfaction, and does so to rich and poor alike.
Generally, the well-being of those who are employed is higher than those who are unemployed. Employment itself may not increase subjective well-being, but facilitates activities that do (such as supporting a family, philanthropy, and education). While work does increase well-being through providing income, income level is not as indicative of subjective well-being as other benefits related to employment. Feelings of autonomy and mastery, found in higher levels in the employed than unemployed, are stronger predictors of subjective well-being than wealth.
When personal preference and the amount of time spent working do not align, both men and women experience a decrease in subjective well-being. The negative effect of working more or working less than preferred has been found across multiple studies, most finding that working more than preferred (over-employed) is more detrimental, but some found that working less (under-employed) is more detrimental. Most individuals’ levels of subjective well-being returned to “normal” (level previous to time mismatch) within one year. Levels remained lower only when individuals worked more hours than preferred for a period of two years or more, which may indicate that it is more detrimental to be over-employed than under-employed in the long-term.
Employment status effects are not confined to the individual. Being unemployed can have detrimental effects on a spouse’s subjective well-being, compared to being employed or not working (and not looking for work). Partner life satisfaction is inversely related to the number of hours their partner is underemployed. When both partners are underemployed, the life-satisfaction of men is more greatly diminished than women. However, just being in a relationship reduces the impact unemployment has on the subjective well-being of an individual. On a broad scale, high rates of unemployment negatively affect the subjective well-being of the employed.
Becoming self-employed can increase subjective well-being, given the right conditions. Those who leave work to become self-employed report greater life satisfaction than those who work for others or become self-employed after unemployment; this effect increases over time. Those who are self-employed and have employees of their own report higher life-satisfaction than those who are self-employed without employees, and women who are self-employed without employees report a higher life satisfaction than men in the same condition.
The effects of retirement on subjective well-being vary depending on personal and cultural factors. Subjective well-being can remain stable for those who retire from work voluntarily, but declines for those who are involuntarily retired. In countries with an average social norm to work, the well-being of men increases after retirement, and the well-being of retired women is at the same level as women who are homemakers or work outside the home. In countries with a strong social norm to work, retirement negatively impacts the well-being of men and women.
Relationships and Children
In the 1970s, women typically reported higher subjective well-being than did men. By 2009, declines in reported female happiness had eroded a gender gap.
In rich societies, where a rise in income does not equate to an increase in levels of subjective well-being, personal relationships are the determining factors of happiness.
Glaeser, Gottlieb and Ziv suggest in their conclusion that the happiness trade-offs that individuals seem willing to make aligns with the tendency of parents to report less happiness, as they sacrifice their personal well-being for the “price” of having children.
Freedom and Control
There is a significant correlation between feeling in control of one’s own life and happiness levels.
A study conducted at the University of Zurich suggested that democracy and federalism bring well-being to individuals. It concluded that the more direct political participation possibilities available to citizens raises their subjective well-being. Two reasons were given for this finding. First, a more active role for citizens enables better monitoring of professional politicians by citizens, which leads to greater satisfaction with government output. Second, the ability for citizens to get involved in and have control over the political process, independently increases well-being.
American psychologist Barry Schwartz argues in his book The Paradox of Choice that too many consumer and lifestyle choices can produce anxiety and unhappiness due to analysis paralysis and raised expectations of satisfaction.
National cross-sectional data suggest an inverse relationship between religious diversity and happiness, possibly by facilitating more bonding (and less bridging) social capital.
Happiness and Leisure
Much of the research regarding happiness and leisure relies on subjective well-being (SWB) as an appropriate measure of happiness. Research has demonstrated a wide variety of contributing and resulting factors in the relationship between leisure and happiness. These include psychological mechanisms, and the types and characteristics of leisure activities that result in the greatest levels of subjective happiness. Specifically, leisure may trigger five core psychological mechanisms including detachment-recovery from work, autonomy in leisure, mastery of leisure activities, meaning-making in leisure activities, and social affiliation in leisure (DRAMMA). Leisure activities that are physical, relational, and performed outdoors are correlated with greater feelings of satisfaction with free time. Research across 33 different countries shows that individuals who feel they strengthen social relationships and work on personal development during leisure time are happier than others. Furthermore, shopping, reading books, attending cultural events, getting together with relatives, listening to music and attending sporting events is associated with higher levels of happiness. Spending time on the internet or watching TV is not associated with higher levels of happiness as compared to these other activities.
Research has shown that culture influences how we measure happiness and leisure. While SWB is a commonly used measure of happiness in North America and Europe, this may not be the case internationally. Quality of life (QOL) may be a better measure of happiness and leisure in Asian countries, especially Korea. Countries such as China and Japan may require a different measurement of happiness, as societal differences may influence the concept of happiness (i.e. economic variables, cultural practices, and social networks) beyond what QOL is able to measure. There seem to be some differences in leisure preference cross-culturally. Within the Croatian culture, family related leisure activities may enhance SWB across a large spectrum of ages ranging from adolescent to older adults, in both women and men. Active socializing and visiting cultural events are also associated with high levels of SWB across varying age and gender. Italians seem to prefer social conceptions of leisure as opposed to individualistic conceptions. Although different groups of individuals may prefer varying types and amount of leisure activity, this variability is likely due to the differing motivations and goals that an individual intends to fulfil with their leisure time.
Research suggests that specific leisure interventions enhance feelings of SWB. This is both a top-down and bottom-up effect, in that leisure satisfaction causally affects SWB, and SWB causally affects leisure satisfaction. This bi-directional effect is stronger in retired individuals than in working individuals. Furthermore, it appears that satisfaction with our leisure at least partially explains the relationship between our engagement in leisure and our SWB. Broadly speaking, researchers classify leisure into active (e.g. volunteering, socialising, sports and fitness) and passive leisure (e.g. watching television and listening to the radio). Among older adults, passive leisure activities and personal leisure activities (e.g. sleeping, eating, and bathing) correlate with higher levels of SWB and feelings of relaxation than active leisure activities. Thus, although significant evidence has demonstrated that active leisure is associated with higher levels of SWB, or happiness, this may not be the case with older populations.
Both regular and irregular involvement in sports leisure can result in heightened SWB. Serious, or systematic involvement in certain leisure activities, such as taekwondo, correlates with personal growth and a sense of happiness. Additionally, more irregular (e.g. seasonal) sports activities, such as skiing, are also correlated with high SWB. Furthermore, the relationship between pleasure and skiing is thought to be caused in part by a sense of flow and involvement with the activity. Leisure activities, such as meeting with friends, participating in sports, and going on vacation trips, positively correlate with life satisfaction. It may also be true that going on a vacation makes our lives seem better, but does not necessarily make us happier in the long term. Research regarding vacationing or taking a holiday trip is mixed. Although the reported effects are mostly small, some evidence points to higher levels of SWB, or happiness, after taking a holiday.
Poverty alleviation are associated with happier populations. According to the latest systematic review of the economic literature on life satisfaction: Volatile or high inflation is bad for a population’s well-being, particularly those with a right-wing political orientation. That suggests the impact of disruptions to economic security are in part mediated or modified by beliefs about economic security.
The Voxeu analysis of the economic determinants of happiness found that life satisfaction explains the largest share of an existing government’s vote share, followed by economic growth, which itself explains six times as much as employment and twice as much as inflation.
Individualistic societies have happier populations. Institutes of economic freedom are associated with increases wealth inequality but does not necessarily contribute to decreases in aggregate well-being or subjective well-being at the population level. In fact, income inequality enhances global well-being. There is some debate over whether living in poor neighbours make one happier. And, living among rich neighbours can dull the happiness that comes from wealth. This is purported to work by way of an upward or downward comparison effect (Keeping up with the Joneses). The balance of evidence is trending in favour of the hypothesis that living in poor neighbourhoods makes one less happy, and living in rich neighbourhoods actually makes one happier, in the United States. While social status matters, a balance of factors like amenities, safe areas, well maintained housing, turn the tide in favour of the argument that richer neighbours are happier neighbours.
“The right to participate in the political process, measured by the extent of direct democratic rights across regions, is strongly correlated with subjective well-being (Frey and Stutzer, 2002) … a potential mechanism that explains this relationship is the perception of procedural fairness and social mobility.” Institutions and well-being, democracy and federalism are associated with a happier population. Correspondingly, political engagement and activism have associated health benefits. On the other hand, some non-democratic countries such as China and Saudi Arabia top the Ipsos list of countries where the citizenry is most happy with their government’s direction. That suggests that voting preferences may not translate well into overall satisfaction with the government’s direction. In any case, both of these factors revealed preference and domain specific satisfaction rather than overall subjective well being.
Historically, economists thought economic growth was unrelated to population level well-being, a phenomenon labelled the Easterlin paradox. More robust research has identified that there is a link between economic development and the wellbeing of the population. A 2017 meta-analysis suggests that the impact of infrastructure expenditure on economic growth varies considerably. So, one cannot assume an infrastructure project will yield welfare benefits. The paper does not investigate or elaborate on any modifiable variables that might predict the value of a project. However, government spending on roads and primary industries is the best value target for transport spending, according to a 2013 meta-analysis.7% (+/−3%) per annum discount rates are typically applied as the discount rate on public infrastructure projects in Australia. Smaller real discount rates are used internationally to calculate the social return on investment by governments.
Alternative Approach: Economic Consequences of Happiness
While the mainstream happiness economics has focused on identifying the determinants of happiness, an alternative approach in the discipline examines instead what are the economic consequences of happiness. Happiness may act as a determinant of economic outcomes: it increases productivity, predicts one’s future income and affects labour market performance. There is a growing number of studies justifying the so-called “happy-productive worker” thesis. The positive and causal impact of happiness on an individual’s productivity has been established in experimental studies.
Timeline of Developments
The idea that happiness is important to a society is not new. Many other prominent intellectuals, philosophers and political leaders throughout history, including Aristotle, Confucius, and Plato, incorporated happiness into their work.
“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” (Aristotle,350 B.C.).
Thomas Jefferson put the “pursuit of happiness” on the same level as life and liberty in the United States’ Declaration of Independence. Jeremy Bentham believed that public policy should attempt to maximize happiness, and he even attempted to estimate a “hedonic calculus”. In the US, there is no explicit policy that requires the rulers to develop the physical and mental well-being of the citizens or hold the government agencies accountable for their performance against specific measures or metrics of well-being. Until 1972 there was no formal government policy, anywhere in the world, that placed happiness and well-being as a main criterion for public policy decision making.
The following is a chronological list of happiness economics and well-being indices:
1789 – France adopts the Declaration: It emphasizes happiness as a fundamental right and universal goal.
1972 – Bhutan’s former king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, introduced the Gross National Happiness (GNH) philosophy and its four development pillars at an international conference.
2005 – Med Jones of the International Institute of Management introduced the first GNH Index and Global GNH Index Survey. The GNH Index, also known as Gross National Well-being (GNW) Index framework served as the first integrated objective (economic) and subjective (happiness) socioeconomic development framework. Prior to the GNH Index, there were few development indices that improved upon the gross domestic product (GDP), but did not measure happiness. For example, the Genuine Progress Indicator was focused on the environmental cost of economic development, then later (in 2006) it was updated to include similar measures to the GNH Index. Another development index is the Human Development Index (HDI) that originally focused on literacy and education but also did not measure happiness. The HDI now measures three basic dimensions of human development, health (as measured by life expectancy at birth), overall knowledge level (as measured by the literacy rate), and standard of living (as measured by GDP per capita for a given year). Among the criticisms of the HDI is the complaint that it is a mixture of stock measures (life expectancy at birth and literacy rate) and a flow measure (GDP per capita for a given year). To overcome this criticism, Hou, Walsh, and Zhang (2015) proposed a new index called HDIF (Human Development Index Flow), in which they replaced life expectancy at birth by the under-five mortality rate (for a given year), and they also replaced the literacy rate by the gross primary school enrolment ratio for a given year). They calculated both the HDI and the HDIF for many countries and found that “the HDIF and the HDI tend to converge for wealthy countries and diverge for poor countries, especially those with low HDI rankings”. The development performance of poor countries improved using the HDIF while the performance of the wealthy countries declined.
2006 – The Genuine Progress Indicator was updated from a green measurement system to a broader concept that included quantitative measurement of well-being and happiness. The new measure is motivated by the philosophy of the GNH and the same notion of that subjective measures like well-being are more relevant and important than more objective measures like consumption. It is not measured directly, but only by means of the factors which are believed to lead to it.
2007 – Thailand releases Green and Happiness Index (GHI).
2008 – French President Nicolas Sarkozy launched a Happiness Initiative similar to GNH, calling for the inclusion of happiness and well-being among the criteria for national governance policies. He commissioned three prominent economists, Joseph Stiglitz (US), Amartya Sen (India), Jean-Paul Fitoussi (France), to publish a report calling for a global “statistical system which goes beyond commercial activity to measure personal well-being.” Later it was described as gross domestic happiness (GDH). The GDH Index is similar to the GNH Index of 2005.
2008 – The goal of furthering gross national happiness, as well as a specified GNH Index to measure this, are instituted explicitly in the Constitution of Bhutan, to guide its government, on 18 July 2008. The included index is used to measure the collective happiness and well-being of the population.
2009 – In the United States, the Gallup poll system launched the happiness survey collecting data on national scale. The Gallup Well-Being Index was modelled after the GNH Index framework of 2005. The Well-Being Index score is an average of six sub-indexes which measure life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviours, and access to basic necessities. In October 2009, the US scored 66.1/100.
2010 – The concept was taken seriously, as the Centre for Bhutan Studies, under the leadership of Karma Ura, developed a sophisticated survey instrument to measure the population’s general level of well-being. Two Canadians, Michael and Martha Pennock played a major role in developing the Bhutanese survey, which took a six- to seven-hour interview to complete. They developed a shorter international version of the survey which has been used in their home region of Victoria, BC, as well as in Brazil. The Pennocks also collaborated with Ura in the production of a policy lens which is used by the Bhutanese GNH Commission for anticipating the impact of policy initiatives upon the levels of gross national happiness in Bhutan.
2010 – The Center for Bhutan Studies further defined the original four pillars with greater specificity into eight general contributors to happiness, which make up the Bhutan GNH Index: 1) physical, mental and spiritual health; 2) time-balance; 3) social and community vitality; 4) cultural vitality; 5) education; 6) living standards; 7) good governance; and 8) ecological vitality.
2010 – The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative OPHI at the University of Oxford in UK, launched the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) for the United Nations Development Programme, (UNDP). Similar to the GNH Index of 2005, OPHI promotes collection and analysis of data on five dimensions including Quality of work, Empowerment, Physical safety, Ability to go about without shame, Psychological wellbeing.
2011 – UN General Assembly Resolution 65/309, titled “Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development”
2011 – The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) launched “Better Life Index” (BLI).
2011 – The United Nations released its first edition of the now annual World Happiness Report.
2011 – Canadian Index of Wellbeing Network (CIW Network) released The Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW).
2011 – The Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an article suggesting that western GDP economics is an incomplete development model and called for the adoption of Bhutan’s GNH philosophy and Jones’ GNH Index in Israel.
2011 – Chuluun Togtokh criticized the HDI in an article published in Nature, calling for a revised HDI, writing that “The revised index should include each nation’s per capita carbon emissions, and so become a Human Sustainable Development Index (HSDI).” Bravo (2014) provided details of how the HSDI was computed and proposed an amended HSDI by including the proportion of forested area in each country. He argued that this proposed indicator “represents an important measure of the capacity of the natural system to provide fundamental ecological services.”
2012 – In a report prepared for the US Congressman Hansen Clarke, R, researchers Ben Beachy and Juston Zorn, at John F. Kennedy School of Government in Harvard University, recommended that “the Congress should prescribe the broad parameters of new, carefully designed supplemental national indicators; it should launch a bipartisan commission of experts to address unresolved methodological issues, and include alternative indicators.” They proposed that the government can use the survey results to see which well-being dimensions are least satisfied and which districts and demographic groups are most deficient, so as to allocate resources accordingly. The report list the Gross National Happiness Index and its seven measurement area as one of the main frameworks to consider.
2012 – Professor Peter T. Coleman, a director of the International Centre for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Columbia University, suggested that Jones’ GNH Index initiative could inform the Global Peace Index Initiative GPI.
2012 – South Korea launched Happiness Index citing the GNH Index framework.
2012 – The government of Goa, India, published a strategy for socioeconomic development citing the GNH Index as a model for measuring happiness.
2012 – The city of Seattle in Washington, launched its own happiness index initiative, emphasizing measures similar to the GNH Index.
2013 – The Social Progress Index SPI was launched by Michael Porter
2013 – The president of Singapore, Tony Tan, proposed that in addition to building up substantial financial reserves, Singapore needed to focus on building up its “social reserves”, a concept that appears to have parallels to GNH.
2013 – Economist Karol Jan Borowiecki motivates that well-being indices can be obtained from the way people communicate, as is established in psychology, and compiles the first well-being indices covering the life-time of a person.
2013 – A joint commission led by the Conseil économique et social, the Conseil supérieur pour un développement durable and the Observatoire de la Compétitivité introduces a set of indicators measuring the quality of life in Luxembourg. The conclusions of the commission are summarised in a document titled “Projet PIBien-être”, which identifies 64 indicators belonging to 11 different domains to assess quality of life in Luxembourg.
2014 – The government of Dubai launched its localized Happiness Index to measure the public’s contentment and satisfaction with different government services.
2014 – The United Kingdom launched its own well-being and happiness statistics.
2015 – Within the “Projet PIBien-être” launched in 2013, STATEC (National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg) presents a preliminary analysis of the “Luxembourgish Index of Well-being” (LIW), a first proposal of synthetic indicator measuring the quality of life in Luxembourg. The presentation entitled “Preliminary Assessment of Quality of Life in Luxembourg” was delivered by Marcin Piekałkiewicz on 16 December 2015.
2017 – The Minderoo Foundation launched the Global Slavery Index, providing a map of the estimated prevalence of modern slavery. The information allows an objective comparison and assessment of both the problem and adequacy of the response in 167 countries.
The Satisfaction with Life Index is an attempt to show the average self-reported happiness in different nations. This is an example of a recent trend to use direct measures of happiness, such as surveys asking people how happy they are, as an alternative to traditional measures of policy success such as GDP or GNP. Some studies suggest that happiness can be measured effectively. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), published in November 2008 a major study on happiness economics in Latin America and the Caribbean.
There are also several examples of measures that include self-reported happiness as one variable. Happy Life Years, a concept brought by Dutch sociologist Ruut Veenhoven, combines self-reported happiness with life expectancy. The Happy Planet Index combines it with life expectancy and ecological footprint.
Gross National Happiness (GNH) is a concept introduced by the King of Bhutan in 1972 as an alternative to GDP. Several countries have already developed or are in the process of developing such an index. Bhutan’s index has led that country to limit the amount of deforestation it will allow and to require that all tourists to its nation must spend US$200. Allegedly, low-budget tourism and deforestation lead to unhappiness.
After the military coup of 2006, Thailand also instituted an index. The stated promise of the new Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont is to make the Thai people not only richer but happier as well. Much like GDP results, Thailand releases monthly GNH data. The Thai GNH index is based on a 1–10 scale with 10 being the happiest. As of 13 May 2007, the Thai GNH measured 5.1 points. The index uses poll data from the population surveying various satisfaction factors such as security, public utilities, good governance, trade, social justice, allocation of resources, education and community problems.
Australia, China, France and the United Kingdom are also coming up with indexes to measure national happiness. The UK began to measure national wellbeing in 2012. North Korea also announced an international Happiness Index in 2011 through Korean Central Television. North Korea itself came in second, behind #1 China. Canada released the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) in 2011 to track changes in wellbeing. The CIW has adopted the following working definition of wellbeing: The presence of the highest possible quality of life in its full breadth of expression focused on but not necessarily exclusive to good living standards, robust health, a sustainable environment, vital communities, an educated populace, balanced time use, high levels of democratic participation, and access to and participation in leisure and culture.
Ecuador’s and Bolivia’s new constitutions state the indigenous concept of “good life” (“buen vivir” in Spanish, “sumak kawsay” in Quichua, and “suma qamaña” in Aymara) as the goal of sustainable development.
Neoclassical, as well as classical economics, are not subsumed under the term happiness economics although the original goal was to increase the happiness of the people. Classical and neoclassical economics are stages in the development of welfare economics and are characterised by mathematical modelling. Happiness economics represents a radical break with this tradition. The measurement of subjective happiness respectively life satisfaction by means of survey research across nations and time (in addition to objective measures like lifespan, wealth, security etc.) marks the beginning of happiness economics.
Some have suggested that establishing happiness as a metric is only meant to serve political goals. Recently there has been concern that happiness research could be used to advance authoritarian aims. As a result, some participants at a happiness conference in Rome have suggested that happiness research should not be used as a matter of public policy but rather used to inform individuals.
Even on the individual level, there is discussion on how much effect external forces can have on happiness. Less than 3% of an individual’s level of happiness comes from external sources such as employment, education level, marital status, and socioeconomic status. To go along with this, four of the Big Five Personality Traits are substantially associated with life satisfaction, openness to experience is not associated. Having high levels of internal locus of control leads to higher reported levels of happiness.
Even when happiness can be affected by external sources, it has high hedonic adaptation, some specific events such as an increase in income, disability, unemployment, and loss (bereavement) only have short-term (about a year) effects on a person’s overall happiness and after a while happiness may return to levels similar to unaffected peers.
What has the most influence over happiness are internal factors such as genetics, personality traits, and internal locus of control. It is theorised that 50% of the variation in happiness levels is from genetic sources and is known as the genetic set point. The genetic set point is assumed to be stable over time, fixed, and immune to influence or control. This goes along with findings that well-being surveys have a naturally positive baseline.
With such strong internal forces on happiness, it is hard to have an effect on a person’s happiness externally. This in turn lends itself back to the idea that establishing a happiness metric is only for political gain and has little other use. To support this even further it is believed that a country aggregate level of SWB can account for more variance in government vote share than standard macroeconomic variables, such as income and employment.
According to Bond and Lang (2018), the results are skewed due to the fact that the respondents have to “round” their true happiness to the scale of, e.g., 3 or 7 alternatives (e.g. very happy, pretty happy, not too happy). This “rounding error” may cause a less happy group seem happier, in the average. This would not be the case if the happiness of both groups would be normally distributed with the same variance, but that is usually not the case, based on their results. For some not-implausible log-normal assumptions on the scale, typical results can be reversed to the opposite results.
They also show that the “reporting function” seems to be different for different groups and even for the same individual at different times. For example, when a person becomes disabled, they soon start to lower their threshold for a given answer (e.g. “pretty happy”). That is, they give a higher answer than they would have given at the same happiness state before becoming disabled.
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The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.
According to this theory, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness. Philip Brickman and Donald T. Campbell coined the term in their essay “Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society” (1971). The hedonic treadmill viewpoint suggests that wealth does not increase the level of happiness.
Hedonic adaptation is a process or mechanism that reduces the affective impact of emotional events. Generally, hedonic adaptation involves a happiness “set point”, whereby humans generally maintain a constant level of happiness throughout their lives, despite events that occur in their environment. The process of hedonic adaptation is often conceptualised as a treadmill, since no matter how hard one tries to gain an increase in happiness, one will remain in the same place.
Hedonic adaptation can occur in a variety of ways. Generally, the process involves cognitive changes, such as shifting values, goals, attention and interpretation of a situation. Further, neurochemical processes desensitise overstimulated hedonic pathways in the brain, which possibly prevents persistently high levels of intense positive or negative feelings. The process of adaptation can also occur through the tendency of humans to construct elaborate rationales for considering themselves deprived through a process social theorist Gregg Easterbrook calls “abundance denial”.
Major Theoretical Approaches
“Hedonic treadmill” is a term coined by Brickman and Campbell in their article, “Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society” (1971), describing the tendency of people to keep a fairly stable baseline level of happiness despite external events and fluctuations in demographic circumstances. The idea of relative happiness had been around for decades when in 1978 Brickman, et al., began to approach hedonic pleasure within the framework of Helson’s adaptation level theory, which holds that perception of stimulation is dependent upon comparison of former stimulations. The hedonic treadmill functions similarly to most adaptations that serve to protect and enhance perception. In the case of hedonics, the sensitization or desensitization to circumstances or environment can redirect motivation. This reorientation functions to protect against complacency, but also to accept unchangeable circumstances, and redirect efforts towards more effective goals. Frederick and Lowenstein classify three types of processes in hedonic adaptation: shifting adaptation levels, desensitisation, and sensitisation. Shifting adaptation levels occurs when a person experiences a shift in what is perceived as a “neutral” stimulus, but maintains sensitivity to stimulus differences. For example, if Sam gets a raise he will initially be happier, and then habituate to the larger salary and return to his happiness set point. But he will still be pleased when he gets a holiday bonus. Desensitisation decreases sensitivity in general, which reduces sensitivity to change. Those who have lived in war zones for extended periods of time may become desensitised to the destruction that happens on a daily basis, and be less affected by the occurrence of serious injuries or losses that may once have been shocking and upsetting. Sensitization is an increase of hedonic response from continuous exposure, such as the increased pleasure and selectivity of connoisseurs for wine, or food.
Brickman, Coates, and Janoff-Bulman were among the first to investigate the hedonic treadmill in their 1978 study, “Lottery Winners and Accident Victims: Is Happiness Relative?”. Lottery winners and paraplegics were compared to a control group and as predicted, comparison (with past experiences and current communities) and habituation (to new circumstances) affected levels of happiness such that after the initial impact of the extremely positive or negative events, happiness levels typically went back to the average levels. This interview-based study, while not longitudinal, was the beginning of a now large body of work exploring the relativity of happiness.
Brickman and Campbell originally implied that everyone returns to the same neutral set point after a significantly emotional life event. In the literature review, “Beyond the Hedonic Treadmill, Revising the Adaptation Theory of Well-Being” (2006), Diener, Lucas, and Scollon concluded that people are not hedonically neutral, and that individuals have different set points which are at least partially heritable. They also concluded that individuals may have more than one happiness set point, such as a life satisfaction set point and a subjective well-being set point, and that because of this, one’s level of happiness is not just one given set point but can vary within a given range. Diener and colleagues point to longitudinal and cross-sectional research to argue that happiness set point can change, and lastly that individuals vary in the rate and extent of adaptation they exhibit to change in circumstance.
In a longitudinal study conducted by Mancini, Bonnano, and Clark, people showed individual differences in how they responded to significant life events, such as marriage, divorce and widowhood. They recognised that some individuals do experience substantial changes to their hedonic set point over time, though most others do not, and argue that happiness set point can be relatively stable throughout the course of an individual’s life, but the life satisfaction and subjective well-being set points are more variable.
Similarly, the longitudinal study conducted by Fujita and Diener (2005) described the life satisfaction set point as a “soft baseline”. This means that for most people, this baseline is similar to their happiness baseline. Typically, life satisfaction will hover around a set point for the majority of their lives and not change dramatically. However, for about a quarter of the population this set point is not stable, and does indeed move in response to a major life event. Other longitudinal data has shown that subjective well-being set points do change over time, and that adaptation is not necessarily inevitable. In his archival data analysis, Lucas found evidence that it is possible for someone’s subjective well-being set point to change drastically, such as in the case of individuals who acquire a severe, long term disability. However, as Diener, Lucas, and Scollon point out, the amount of fluctuation a person experiences around their set point is largely dependent on the individual’s ability to adapt.
After following over a thousand sets of twins for 10 years, Lykken and Tellegen (1996) concluded that almost 50% of our happiness levels are determined by genetics. Headey and Wearing (1989) suggested that our position on the spectrum of the stable personality traits (neuroticism, extraversion, and openness to experience) accounts for how we experience and perceive life events, and indirectly contributes to our happiness levels. Research on happiness has spanned decades and crossed cultures in order to test the true limits of our hedonic set point.
In large panel studies, divorce, death of a spouse, unemployment, disability, and similar events have been shown to change the long-term subjective well-being, even though some adaptation does occur and inborn factors affect this.
In the aforementioned Brickman study (1978), researchers interviewed 22 lottery winners and 29 paraplegics to determine their change in happiness levels due to their given event (winning lottery or becoming paralysed). The event in the case of lottery winners had taken place between one month and one and a half years before the study, and in the case of paraplegics between a month and a year. The group of lottery winners reported being similarly happy before and after the event, and expected to have a similar level of happiness in a couple of years. These findings show that having a large monetary gain had no effect on their baseline level of happiness, for both present and expected happiness in the future. They found that the paraplegics reported having a higher level of happiness in the past than the rest (due to a nostalgia effect), a lower level of happiness at the time of the study than the rest (although still above the middle point of the scale, that is, they reported being more happy than unhappy) and, surprisingly, they also expected to have similar levels of happiness than the rest in a couple of years. One must note that the paraplegics did have an initial decrease in life happiness, but the key to their findings is that they expected to eventually return to their baseline in time.
In a newer study (2007), winning a medium-sized lottery prize had a lasting mental wellbeing effect of 1.4 GHQ points on Britons even two years after the event.
Some research suggests that resilience to suffering is partly due to a decreased fear response in the amygdala and increased levels of BDNF in the brain. New genetic research have found that changing a gene could increase intelligence and resilience to depressing and traumatising events. This could have crucial benefits for those with anxiety and PTSD.
Recent research reveals certain types of brain training can increase brain size. The hippocampus volume can affect mood, hedonic setpoints, and some forms of memory. A smaller hippocampus has been linked to depression and dysthymia. Certain activities and environmental factors can reset the hedonic setpoint and also grow the hippocampus to an extent. London taxi drivers’ hippocampi grow on the job, and the drivers have a better memory than those who did not become taxi drivers. In particular, the posterior hippocampus seemed to be the most important for enhanced mood and memory.
Lucas, Clark, Georgellis, and Diener (2003) researched changes in baseline level of well-being due to changes in marital status, the birth of first child, and the loss of employment. While they found that a negative life event can have a greater impact on a person’s psychological state and happiness set point than a positive event, they concluded that people completely adapt, finally returning to their baseline level of well-being, after divorce, losing a spouse, the birth of a child, and for women losing their job. They did not find a return to baseline for marriage or for layoffs in men. This study also illustrated that the amount of adaptation depends on the individual.
Wildeman, Turney, and Schnittker (2014) studied the effects of imprisonment on one’s baseline level of well-being. They researched how being in jail affects one’s level of happiness both short term (while in prison) and long term (after being released). They found that being in prison has negative effects on one’s baseline well-being; in other words one’s baseline of happiness is lower in prison than when not in prison. Once people were released from prison, they were able to bounce back to their previous level of happiness.
Silver (1982) researched the effects of a traumatic accident on one’s baseline level of happiness. Silver found that accident victims were able to return to a happiness set point after a period of time. For eight weeks, Silver followed accident victims who had sustained severe spinal cord injuries. About a week after their accident, Silver observed that the victims were experiencing much stronger negative emotions than positive ones. By the eighth and final week, the victims’ positive emotions outweighed their negative ones. The results of this study suggest that regardless of whether the life event is significantly negative or positive, people will almost always return to their happiness baseline.
Fujita and Diener (2005) studied the stability of one’s level of subjective well-being over time and found that for most people, there is a relatively small range in which their level of satisfaction varies. They asked a panel of 3,608 German residents to rate their current and overall satisfaction with life on a scale of 0–10, once a year for seventeen years. Only 25% of participants exhibited shifts in their level of life satisfaction over the course of the study, with just 9% of participants having experienced significant changes. They also found that those with a higher mean level of life satisfaction had more stable levels of life satisfaction than those with lower levels of satisfaction.
Happiness Set Point
The concept of the happiness set point (proposed by Sonja Lyubomirsky) can be applied in clinical psychology to help patients return to their hedonic set point when negative events happen. Determining when someone is mentally distant from their happiness set point and what events trigger those changes can be extremely helpful in treating conditions such as depression. When a change occurs, clinical psychologists work with patients to recover from the depressive spell and return to their hedonic set point more quickly. Because acts of kindness often promote long-term well-being, one treatment method is to provide patients with different altruistic activities that can help a person raise his or her hedonic set point. This can in turn be helpful in reducing reckless habits in the pursuit of well-being. Further, helping patients understand that long-term happiness is relatively stable throughout one’s life can help to ease anxiety surrounding impactful events.
Hedonic adaptation is also relevant to resilience research. Resilience is a “class of phenomena characterised by patterns of positive adaptation in the context of significant adversity or risk,” meaning that resilience is largely the ability for one to remain at their hedonic setpoint while going through negative experiences. Psychologists have identified various factors that contribute to a person being resilient, such as positive attachment relationships (see Attachment Theory), positive self-perceptions, self-regulatory skills (see Emotional self-regulation), ties to prosocial organisations (refer to prosocial behaviour (or intent to benefit others)), and a positive outlook on life.
One critical point made regarding humans’ individual set point is to understand it may simply be a genetic tendency and not a completely determined criterion for happiness, and it can still be influenced. In a study on moderate to excessive drug intake on rats, Ahmed and Koob (1998) sought to demonstrate that the use of mind-altering drugs such as cocaine could change an individual’s hedonic set point. Their findings suggest that drug usage and addiction lead to neurochemical adaptations whereby a person needs more of that substance to feel the same levels of pleasure. Thus, drug abuse can have lasting impacts on one’s hedonic set point, both in terms of overall happiness and with regard to pleasure felt from drug usage.
Genetic roots of the hedonic set point are also disputed. Sosis (2014) has argued the “hedonic treadmill” interpretation of twin studies depends on dubious assumptions. Pairs of identical twins raised apart are not necessarily raised in substantially different environments. The similarities between twins (such as intelligence or beauty) may invoke similar reactions from the environment. Thus, we might see a notable similarity in happiness levels between twins even though there are no happiness genes governing affect levels.
Further, hedonic adaptation may be a more common phenomenon when dealing with positive events as opposed to negative ones. Negativity bias, where people tend to focus more on negative emotions than positive emotions, can be an obstacle in raising one’s happiness set point. Negative emotions often require more attention and are generally remembered better, overshadowing any positive experiences that may even outnumber negative experiences. Given that negative events hold more psychological power than positive ones, it may be difficult to create lasting positive change.
Headey (2008) concluded that an internal locus of control and having “positive” personality traits (notably low neuroticism) are the two most significant factors affecting one’s subjective well-being. Headey also found that adopting “non-zero sum” goals, those which enrich one’s relationships with others and with society as a whole (i.e. family-oriented and altruistic goals), increase the level of subjective well-being. Conversely, attaching importance to zero-sum life goals (career success, wealth, and social status) will have a small but nevertheless statistically significant negative impact on people’s overall subjective well-being (even though the size of a household’s disposable income does have a small, positive impact on subjective well-being). Duration of one’s education seems to have no direct bearing on life satisfaction. And, contradicting set point theory, Headey found no return to homeostasis after sustaining a disability or developing a chronic illness. These disabling events are permanent, and thus according to cognitive model of depression, may contribute to depressive thoughts and increase neuroticism (another factor found by Headey to diminish subjective well-being). Disability appears to be the single most important factor affecting human subjective well-being. The impact of disability on subjective well-being is almost twice as large as that of the second strongest factor affecting life satisfaction – the personality trait of neuroticism.
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Subjective well-being (SWB) is a self-reported measure of well-being, typically obtained by questionnaire.
Ed Diener developed a tripartite model of subjective well-being in 1984, which describes how people experience the quality of their lives and includes both emotional reactions and cognitive judgments. It posits “three distinct but often related components of wellbeing: frequent positive affect, infrequent negative affect, and cognitive evaluations such as life satisfaction.” Subjective well-being is an overarching ideology that encompasses such things as “high levels of pleasant emotions and moods, low levels of negative emotions and moods, and high life-satisfaction.”
SWB therefore encompasses moods and emotions as well as evaluations of one’s satisfaction with general and specific areas of one’s life. SWB is one definition of happiness.
Although SWB tends to be stable over the time and is strongly related to personality traits, the emotional component of SWB can be impacted by situations; for example, the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, lowered emotional well-being by 74%. There is evidence that health and SWB may mutually influence each other, as good health tends to be associated with greater happiness, and a number of studies have found that positive emotions and optimism can have a beneficial influence on health.
Construction of SWB
Diener argued that the various components of SWB represent distinct constructs that need to be understood separately, even though they are closely related. Hence, SWB may be considered “a general area of scientific interest rather than a single specific construct”. Due to the specific focus on the subjective aspects of well-being, definitions of SWB typically exclude objective conditions such as material conditions or health, although these can influence ratings of SWB. Definitions of SWB therefore focus on how a person evaluates his/her own life, including emotional experiences of pleasure versus pain in response to specific events and cognitive evaluations of what a person considers a good life. Components of SWB relating to affect include positive affect (experiencing pleasant emotions and moods) and low negative affect (experiencing unpleasant, distressing emotions and moods), as well as “overall affect” or “hedonic balance”, defined as the overall equilibrium between positive and negative affect, and usually measured as the difference between the two. High positive affect and low negative affect are often highly correlated, but not always.
Affect refers to the emotions, moods, and feelings a person has. These can be all positive, all negative, or a combination of both positive and negative. Some research shows also that feelings of reward are separate from positive and negative affect.
Life satisfaction (global judgments of one’s life) and satisfaction with specific life domains (e.g. work satisfaction) are considered cognitive components of SWB. The term “happiness” is sometimes used in regards to SWB and has been defined variously as “satisfaction of desires and goals” (therefore related to life satisfaction), as a “preponderance of positive over negative affect” (therefore related to emotional components of SWB), as “contentment”, and as a “consistent, optimistic mood state” and may imply an affective evaluation of one’s life as a whole. Life satisfaction can also be known as the “stable” component in one’s life. Affective concepts of SWB can be considered in terms of momentary emotional states as well as in terms of longer-term moods and tendencies (i.e. how much positive and/or negative affect a person generally experiences over any given period of time).Life satisfaction and in some research happiness are typically considered over long durations, up to one’s lifetime. “Quality of life” has also been studied as a conceptualisation of SWB. Although its exact definition varies, it is usually measured as an aggregation of well-being across several life domains and may include both subjective and objective components.
Eudaimonic measures seek to quantify traits like virtue and wisdom as well as concepts related to fulfilling our potential such as meaning, purpose, and flourishing. Eudaimonic measures are often regarded as a core component of SWB, particularly in the field of positive psychology. However, it is unclear whether measures of meaning are really measures of wellbeing and little data has been collected on them.
Life satisfaction and Affect balance are generally measured separately and independently.
Life satisfaction is generally measured using a self-report method. A common measurement for life satisfaction is questionnaires.
Affective balance is also generally measured using a self-report method. An example of a measurement of affective balance is the PANAS (Positive Affect Negative Affect Schedule).
Sometimes a single SWB question attempts to capture an overall picture. For example, the World Happiness Report uses a Cantril ladder survey, in which respondents are asked to think of a ladder, with the best possible life for them being a 10, and the worst possible life being a 0, and are then asked to rate their own current lives on that 0 to 10 scale.
The issue with the such measurements of life satisfaction and affective balance is that they are self-reports. The problem with self-reports is that the participants may be lying or at least not telling the whole truth on the questionnaires. Participants may be lying or holding back from revealing certain things because they are either embarrassed or they may be filling in what they believe the researcher wants to see in the results. To gain more accurate results, other methods of measurement have been used to determine one’s SWB.
Another way to corroborate or confirm that the self-report results are accurate is through informant reports. Informant reports are given to the participant’s closest friends and family and they are asked to fill out either a survey or a form asking about the participants mood, emotions, and overall lifestyle. The participant may write in the self-report that they are very happy, however that participant’s friends and family record that he/she is always depressed. This would obviously be a contradiction in results which would ultimately lead to inaccurate results.
Another method of gaining a better understanding of the true results is through ESM, or the Experience Sampling Method. In this measure, participants are given a beeper/pager that will randomly ring throughout the day. Whenever the beeper/pager sounds, the participant will stop what he/she is doing and record the activity they are currently engaged in and their current mood and feelings. Tracking this over a period of a week or a month will give researchers a better understanding of the true emotions, moods, and feelings the participant is experiencing, and how these factors interact with other thoughts and behaviours. A third measurement to ensure validity is the Day Reconstruction Method. In this measure, participants fill out a diary of the previous days’ activities. The participant is then asked to describe each activity and provide a report of how they were feeling, what mood they were experiencing, and any emotions that surfaced. Thus to ensure valid results, a researcher may tend to use self-reports along with another form of measurement mentioned above. Someone with a high level of life satisfaction and a positive affective balance is said to have a high level of SWB.
Theories of the causes of SWB tend to emphasize either top-down or bottom-up influences.
In the top-down view, global features of personality influence the way a person perceives events. Individuals may therefore have a global tendency to perceive life in a consistently positive or negative manner, depending on their stable personality traits. Top-down theories of SWB suggest that people have a genetic predisposition to be happy or unhappy and this predisposition determines their SWB “setpoint”. Set Point theory implies that a person’s baseline or equilibrium level of SWB is a consequence of hereditary characteristics and therefore, almost entirely predetermined at birth. Evidence for this genetic predisposition derives from behaviour-genetic studies that have found that positive and negative affectivity each have high heritability (40% and 55% respectively in one study). Numerous twin studies confirm the notion of set point theory, however, they do not rule out the possibility that is it possible for individuals to experience long term changes in SWB.
Diener et al. note that heritability studies are limited in that they describe long-term SWB in a sample of people in a modern western society but may not be applicable to more extreme environments that might influence SWB and do not provide absolute indicators of genetic effects. Additionally, heritability estimates are inconsistent across studies.
Further evidence for a genetically influenced predisposition to SWB comes from findings that personality has a large influence on long-term SWB. This has led to the dynamic equilibrium model of SWB. This model proposes that personality provides a baseline for emotional responses. External events may move people away from the baseline, sometimes dramatically, but these movements tend to be of limited duration, with most people returning to their baseline eventually.
From a bottom-up perspective, happiness is created from happy experiences. Bottom-up influences include external events, and broad situational and demographic factors, including health and marital status. Bottom-up approaches are based on the idea that there are universal basic human needs and that happiness results from their fulfilment. In support of this view, there is evidence that daily pleasurable events are associated with increased positive affect, and daily unpleasant events or hassles are associated with increased negative affect.
However, research suggests that external events account for a much smaller proportion of the variance in self-reports of SWB than top-down factors, such as personality. A theory proposed to explain the limited impact of external events on SWB is hedonic adaptation. Based originally on the concept of a “hedonic treadmill”, this theory proposes that positive or negative external events temporarily increase or decrease feelings of SWB, but as time passes people tend to become habituated to their circumstances and have a tendency to return to a personal SWB “setpoint” or baseline level.
The hedonic treadmill theory originally proposed that most people return to a neutral level of SWB (i.e. neither happy nor unhappy) as they habituate to events. However, subsequent research has shown that for most people, the baseline level of SWB is at least mildly positive, as most people tend to report being at least somewhat happy in general and tend to experience positive mood when no adverse events are occurring. Additional refinements to this theory have shown that people do not adapt to all life events equally, as people tend to adapt rapidly to some events (e.g. imprisonment), slowly to others (e.g. the death of a loved one), and not at all to others (e.g. noise and sex).
Personality and Genetics
A number of studies have found that SWB constructs are strongly associated with a range of personality traits, including those in the five factor model. Findings from numerous personality studies show that genetics account for 20–48% of the variance in the Five-Factor Model and the variance in subjective well-being is also heritable. Specifically, neuroticism predicts poorer subjective well-being whilst extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness to experience tend to predict higher subjective well-being. A Meta-analyses found that neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness were significantly related to all facets of SWB examined (positive, negative, and overall affect; happiness; life satisfaction; and quality of life). Meta-analytic research shows that neuroticism is the strongest predictor of overall SWB and is the strongest predictor of negative affect.
A large number of personality traits are related to SWB constructs, although intelligence has negligible relationships. Positive affect is most strongly predicted by extraversion, to a lesser extent agreeableness, and more weakly by openness to experience. Happiness was most strongly predicted by extraversion, and also strongly predicted by neuroticism, and to a lesser extent by the other three factors. Life satisfaction was significantly predicted by neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Quality of life was very strongly predicted by neuroticism, and also strongly predicted by extraversion and conscientiousness, and to a modest extent by agreeableness and openness to experience. One study found that subjective well-being was genetically indistinct from personality traits, especially those that reflected emotional stability (low Neuroticism), and social and physical activity (high Extraversion), and constraint (high Conscientiousness).
DeNeve (1999) argued that there are three trends in the relationship between personality and SWB. Firstly, SWB is closely tied to traits associated with emotional tendencies (emotional stability, positive affectivity, and tension). Secondly, relationship enhancing traits (e.g. trust, affiliation) are important for subjective well-being. Happy people tend to have strong relationships and be good at fostering them. Thirdly, the way people think about and explain events is important for subjective well-being. Appraising events in an optimistic fashion, having a sense of control, and making active coping efforts facilitates subjective well-being. Trust, a trait substantially related to SWB, as opposed to cynicism involves making positive rather than negative attributions about others. Making positive, optimistic attributions rather than negative pessimistic ones facilitates subjective well-being.
The related trait of eudaimonia or psychological well-being, is also heritable. Evidence from one study supports 5 independent genetic mechanisms underlying the Ryff facets of psychological well-being, leading to a genetic construct of eudaimonia in terms of general self-control, and four subsidiary biological mechanisms enabling the psychological capabilities of purpose, agency, growth, and positive social relations.
A person’s level of subjective well-being is determined by many different factors and social influences prove to be a strong one. Results from the famous Framingham Heart Study indicate that friends three degrees of separation away (that is, friends of friends of friends) can affect a person’s happiness. From abstract: “A friend who lives within a mile (about 1.6 km) and who becomes happy increases the probability that a person is happy by 25%.”
Research has not demonstrated that there are significant differences in subjective well-being between childless couples and couples with children. A research study by Pollmann-Schult (2014) found that when holding finances and time costs constant, parents are happier and show increased life satisfaction than non-parents.
Research indicates that wealth is related to many positive outcomes in life. Such outcomes include: improved health and mental health, greater longevity, lower rates of infant mortality, experience fewer stressful life events, and less frequently the victims of violent crimes However, research suggests that wealth has a smaller impact on SWB than people generally think, even though higher incomes do correlate substantially with life satisfaction reports.
The relative influence of wealth together with other material components on overall subjective well-being of a person is being studied through new research. The Well-being Project at Human Science Lab investigates how material well-being and perceptual well-being works as relative determinants in conditioning our mind for positive emotions.
In a study done by Aknin, Norton, & Dunn (2009), researchers asked participants from across the income spectrum to report their own happiness and to predict the happiness of others and themselves at different income levels. In study 1, predicted happiness ranged between 2.4 and 7.9, and actual happiness ranged between 5.2 and 7.7. In study 2, predicted happiness ranged between 15-80 and actual happiness ranged between 50 and 80. These findings show that people believe that money does more for happiness than it really does. However, some research indicates that while socioeconomic measures of status do not correspond to greater happiness, measures of sociometric status (status compared to people encountered face-to-face on a daily basis) do correlate to increased subjective well-being, above and beyond the effects of extroversion and other factors.
The Easterlin Paradox also suggests that there is no connection between a society’s economic development and its average level of happiness. Through time, the Easterlin has looked at the relationship between happiness and gross domestic product (GDP) across countries and within countries. There are three different phenomena to look at when examining the connection between money and Subjective well-being; rising GDP within a country, relative income within a country, and differences in GDP between countries.
More specifically, when making comparisons between countries, a principle called the Diminishing Marginal Utility of Income (DMUI) stands strong. Veenhoven (1991) said, “[W]e not only see a clear positive relationship [between happiness and GNP per capita], but also a curvilinear pattern; which suggest that wealth is subject to a law of diminishing happiness returns.” Meaning a $1,000 increase in real income, becomes progressively smaller the higher the initial level of income, having less of an impact on subjective well-being. Easterlin (1995) proved that the DMUI is true when comparing countries, but not when looking at rising gross domestic product within countries.
There are substantial positive associations between health and SWB so that people who rate their general health as “good” or “excellent” tend to experience better SWB compared to those who rate their health as “fair” or “poor”. A meta-analysis found that self-ratings of general health were more strongly related to SWB than physician ratings of health. The relationship between health and SWB may be bidirectional. There is evidence that good subjective well-being contributes to better health. A review of longitudinal studies found that measures of baseline subjective well-being constructs such as optimism and positive affect predicted longer-term health status and mortality. Conversely, a number of studies found that baseline depression predicted poorer longer-term health status and mortality. Baseline health may well have a causal influence on subjective well-being so causality is difficult to establish. A number of studies found that positive emotions and optimism had a beneficial impact on cardiovascular health and on immune functioning. Changes in mood are also known to be associated with changes in immune and cardiovascular response. There is evidence that interventions that are successful in improving subjective well-being can have beneficial effects on aspects of health. For example, meditation and relaxation training have been found to increase positive affect and to reduce blood pressure. The effect of specific types of subjective well-being is not entirely clear. For example, how durable the effects of mood and emotions on health are remains unclear. Whether some types of subjective well-being predict health independently of others is also unclear. Meditation has the power to increase happiness because it can improve self-confidence and reduces anxiety, which increases your well-being. Cultivating personal strengths and resources, like humour, social/animal company, and daily occupations, also appears to help people preserve acceptable levels of SWB despite the presence of symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress.
Research suggests that probing a patient’s happiness is one of the most important things a doctor can do to predict that patient’s health and longevity. In health-conscious modern societies, most people overlook the emotions as a vital component of one’s health, while over focusing on diet and exercise. According to Diener & Biswas-Diener, people who are happy become less sick than people who are unhappy. There are three types of health: morbidity, survival, and longevity. Evidence suggests that all three can be improved through happiness:
Morbidity, simply put, is whether or not someone develops a serious illness, such as the flu or cancer. In a 30-year longitudinal study, participants who were high in positive emotions were found to have lower rates of many health problems. Some of these illnesses/problems include lower death rates from heart disease, suicide, accidents, homicides, mental illnesses, drug dependency, and liver disease related to alcoholism. Additionally, results showed that depressed participants were more likely to have heart attacks and recurrences of heart attacks when compared to happy people.
Survival is the term used for what happens to a person after he/she has already developed or contracted a serious illness. Although happiness has been shown to increase health, with survival, this may not be the case. Survival may be the only area of health that evidence suggests happiness may actually be sometimes detrimental. It is unclear why exactly research results suggest this is the case, however Diener & Biswas-Diener offer an explanation. It is possible that happy people fail to report symptoms of the illness, which can ultimately lead to no treatment or inadequate treatment. Another possible reason may be that happy people tend to be optimistic, leading them to take their symptoms too lightly, seek treatment too late, and/or follow the doctor’s instructions half-heartedly. And lastly, Diener & Biswas-Diener suggest that people with serious illnesses may be more likely to choose to live out the rest of their days without painful or invasive treatments.
Longevity, the third area of health, is measured by an individual’s age of death. Head researcher Deborah Danner of the University of Kentucky researched links between an individual’s happiness and that individual’s longevity. Danner recruited 180 Catholic nuns from a nearby convent as the participants of her study. She chose nuns because they live very similar lives. This eliminates many confounding variables that might be present in other samples, which can lead to inaccurate results. Such confounding variables could include substance use, diet, and sexual risk-taking. Since there are few differences among the nuns as far as the confounding variables, this sample offered the best option to match a controlled laboratory setting. Results showed that nuns who were considered happy or positive in their manner and language on average lived 10 years longer than the nuns who were considered unhappy or negative in their manner and language. A follow-up study by health researcher Sarah Pressman examined 96 famous psychologists to determine if similar results from the nun research would be seen as well. Pressman’s results showed that the positive or happy psychologists lived, on average, 6 years longer. The psychologists who were considered negative or unhappy lived, on average, 5 years less.
A positive relationship has been found between the volume of gray matter in the right precuneus area of the brain, and the subject’s subjective happiness score. A six-week mindfulness based intervention was found to correlate with a significant gray matter increase within the precuneus.
There are a number of domains that are thought to contribute to subjective well-being. In a study by Hribernik and Mussap (2010), leisure satisfaction was found to predict unique variance in life satisfaction, supporting its inclusion as a distinct life domain contributing to subjective well-being. Additionally, relationship status interacted with age group and gender on differences in leisure satisfaction. The relationship between leisure satisfaction and life satisfaction, however, was reduced when considering the impact of core affect (underlying mood state). This suggests that leisure satisfaction may primarily be influenced by an individual’s subjective well-being level as represented by core affect. This has implications for possible limitations in the extent to which leisure satisfaction may be improved beyond pre-existing levels of well-being and mood in individuals.
Although all cultures seem to value happiness, cultures vary in how they define happiness. There is also evidence that people in more individualistic cultures tend to rate themselves as higher in subjective well-being compared to people in more collectivistic cultures.
In Western cultures, predictors of happiness include elements that support personal independence, a sense of personal agency, and self-expression. In Eastern cultures, predictors of happiness focus on an interdependent self that is inseparable from significant others. Compared to people in individualistic cultures, people in collectivistic cultures are more likely to base their judgments of life satisfaction on how significant others appraise their life than on the balance of inner emotions experienced as pleasant versus unpleasant. Pleasant emotional experiences have a stronger social component in East Asian cultures compared to Western ones. For example, people in Japan are more likely to associate happiness with interpersonally engaging emotions (such as friendly feelings), whereas people in the United States are more likely to associate happiness with interpersonally disengaging emotions (pride, for example). There are also cultural differences in motives and goals associated with happiness. For example, Asian Americans tend to experience greater happiness after achieving goals that are pleasing to or approved of by significant others compared to European Americans. There is also evidence that high self-esteem, a sense of personal control and a consistent sense of identity relate more strongly to SWB in Western cultures than they do in Eastern ones. However, this is not to say that these things are unimportant to SWB in Eastern cultures. Research has found that even within Eastern cultures, people with high self-esteem and a more consistent sense of identity are somewhat happier than those who are low in these characteristics. There is no evidence that low self-esteem and so on are actually beneficial to SWB in any known culture.
A large body of research evidence has confirmed that people in individualistic societies report higher levels of happiness than people in collectivistic ones and that socioeconomic factors alone are insufficient to explain this difference. In addition to political and economic differences, individualistic versus collectivistic nations reliably differ in a variety of psychological characteristics that are related to SWB, such as emotion norms and attitudes to the expression of individual needs. Collectivistic cultures are based around the belief that the individual exists for the benefit of the larger social unit, whereas more individualistic cultures assume the opposite. Collectivistic cultures emphasize maintaining social order and harmony and therefore expect members to suppress their personal desires when necessary in order to promote collective interests. Such cultures therefore consider self-regulation more important than self-expression or than individual rights. Individualistic cultures by contrast emphasize the inalienable value of each person and expect individuals to become self-directive and self-sufficient. Although people in collectivistic cultures may gain happiness from the social approval they receive from suppressing self-interest, research seems to suggest that self-expression produces a greater happiness “payoff” compared to seeking approval outside oneself.
Despite westerners reporting higher levels of subjective well-being than easterners, they also have more frequent reports of depression. The differing beliefs on self-expression help explain what may at first seem paradoxical. Westerners tend to encourage individual expression, which leads to a greater focus on one’s own emotions. This increased self-awareness combines with the normative belief that joy should be more common than sadness. People living under these conditions can catastrophize their own negative emotions; feeling increased sadness over the fact that they are either not currently happy or frequently happy. Easterners tend to be more concerned about their collective’s feelings over their own individual feelings. They do not typically catastrophise their sadness, and learn to brush it off.
Positive psychology is particularly concerned with the study of SWB. Positive psychology was founded by Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000) who identified that psychology is not just the study of pathology, weakness, and damage; but it is also the study of strength and virtue. Researchers in positive psychology have pointed out that in almost every culture studied the pursuit of happiness is regarded as one of the most valued goals in life. Understanding individual differences in SWB is of key interest in positive psychology, particularly the issue of why some people are happier than others. Some people continue to be happy in the face of adversity whereas others are chronically unhappy at the best of times.
Positive psychology has investigated how people might improve their level of SWB and maintain these improvements over the longer term, rather than returning to baseline. Lyubomirsky (2001) argued that SWB is influenced by a combination of personality/genetics (studies have found that genetic influences usually account for 35-50% of the variance in happiness measures), external circumstances, and activities that affect SWB. She argued that changing one’s external circumstances tends to have only a temporary effect on SWB, whereas engaging in activities (mental and/or physical) that enhance SWB can lead to more lasting improvements in SWB.
Use in Happiness Economics
SWB is often used in appraising the wellbeing of populations.
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Secret Society of Happy People (SOHP) is an organisation that celebrates the expression of happiness.
Founded in August 1998, the society encourages thousands of members from all around the globe to recognise their happy moments and think about happiness in their daily life.
The Secret Society of Happy People supports people who want to share their happiness despite the ones who don’t want to hear happy news. Their mottos include “Happiness Happens” and “Don’t Even Think of Raining on My Parade”.
The main purpose of the Society is to stimulate people’s right to express their happiness “as loud as they want”.
The Society was founded in August 1998 in Irving, Texas, by Pamela Gail Johnson. In December 1998, it gained international reception, when it challenged advice columnist Ann Landers for discouraging people from writing happy holiday newsletters enclosed with their holiday cards. In a letter to Landers, Johnson demanded an apology “to the millions of people you made feel bad for wanting to share their happy news.” The Society’s campaign persuaded Landers to change her advice on holiday letters, one of the rare occasions the columnist had a change of heart. Within the next few years the Society grew bigger being supported by thousands of fans from more than 34 countries.
Pamela Gail Johnson founded the Secret Society of Happy People with the main idea of creating a “safe place” where people can share their happy moments, without being discouraged by the parade rainers. Since 1998 she has been managing the Society by writing posts, writing the newsletter, updating social media information and answering fan’s questions on her blog Ask Pamela Gail: Where Happiness Meets Reality. Each blog post is formed as an answer to the member’s questions submitted through the website. The purpose is to give people advice for handling their unhappy moments and learning the lesson out of each and every one of them. The column is posted weekly. Pamela is also the author of The Secret Society of Happy People’s Thirty-One Types of Happiness Guide released in November 2012 and Don’t Even Think of Raining on My Parade: Adventures of the Secret Society of Happy People.
Happiness Happens Day
In 1999 the Society declared 08 August as the “Admit You’re Happy Day”, now known as the “Happiness Happens Day”. The idea was inspired by the event that happened the previous year on the same date- the first member joined the Society. In 1998 the Society asked the governors in all 50 states for a proclamation. Nineteen of them sent proclamations.
Happiness Happens Month
Celebration of happiness was expanded in 2000, and thanks to the support of not-so-secretly-happy members from around the world, the Society declared August as Happiness Happens Month. The purpose of Happiness Happens Day and Month is to share happiness and encourage people to talk and think about happiness.
Every year, the Society organises an online social media event known as HappyThon, on Happiness Happens Day. The aim of this event is to send inspirational messages via social networks, emails or texts, share happy moments, philosophy, quotes, etc. HappyThon is the first online social media event that promotes happiness around the world.
Since 1998 the Society have been organising voting and announcing the Happiest Events and Moments of the Year. Before the end of the century, a vote for 100 of the Happiest Events, Inventions and Social Changes of the Century was organised. In the third week of January the Society hosted Hunt for Happiness Week. They asked the current governors for proclamation, and got it by seven of them.
Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living, focusing on both individual and societal well-being.
It studies “positive subjective experience, positive individual traits, and positive institutions…it aims to improve quality of life.” It is a field of study that has been growing steadily throughout the years as individuals and researchers look for common ground on better well-being.
Positive psychology began as a new domain of psychology in 1998 when Martin Seligman chose it as the theme for his term as president of the American Psychological Association. It is a reaction against past practices, which have tended to focus on mental illness and emphasized maladaptive behaviour and negative thinking. It builds on the humanistic movement by Abraham Maslow, Rollo May, James Bugental, and Carl Rogers, which encourages an emphasis on happiness, well-being, and positivity, thus creating the foundation for what is now known as positive psychology.
Positive psychology focuses on eudaimonia, an Ancient Greek term for “the good life” and the concept for reflection on the factors that contribute the most to a well-lived and fulfilling life. Positive psychologists often use the terms subjective well-being and happiness interchangeably.
Positive psychologists have suggested a number of factors may contribute to happiness and subjective well-being. For example, social ties with a spouse, family, friends, colleagues, and wider networks; membership in clubs or social organisations; physical exercise; and the practice of meditation. Spirituality can also be considered a factor that leads to increased individual happiness and well-being. Spiritual practice and religious commitment is a topic researchers have been studying as another possible source for increased well-being and an added part of positive psychology. Happiness may rise with increasing financial income, though it may plateau or even fall when no further gains are made or after a certain cut-off amount.
Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi define positive psychology as “the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels that include the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life.”
Positive psychology is concerned with eudaimonia, meaning “the good life” or flourishing. It is focused on living according to what holds the greatest value in life and other such factors that contribute the most to a well-lived and fulfilling life. While not attempting a strict definition of the good life, positive psychologists agree that one must live a happy, engaged, and meaningful life in order to experience “the good life.” Martin Seligman referred to “the good life” as using your signature strengths every day to produce authentic happiness and abundant gratification.
Positive psychology complements, without intending to replace or ignore, the traditional areas of psychology. By emphasizing the study of positive human development, this field helps to balance other approaches that focus on disorder, which may produce only limited understanding. Positive psychology has also placed a significant emphasis on fostering positive self-esteem and self-image, though positive psychologists with a less humanist direction are less likely to focus as intently on such topics.
The basic premise of positive psychology is that human beings are often intrigued by the future more than they are driven by the past. It also suggests that a combination of positive experiences and emotions concerning the past, the present, and the future leads to a pleasant, happy life. Another aspect of this may come from our views outside of our own lives. Author of Grit, Angela Duckworth, might view this as having an other-centred purpose, of which could have a positive psychological effect on our lives. Seligman identified other possible goals: families and schools that allow children to grow, workplaces that aim for satisfaction and high productivity, and teaching others about positive psychology. Psychologist Daniel Gilbert has also written extensively on the affects of time perception and happiness.
Those who practice positive psychology attempt psychological interventions that foster positive attitudes toward one’s subjective experiences, individual traits, and life events. The goal is to minimise pathological thoughts that may arise in a hopeless mindset and to develop a sense of optimism toward life. Positive psychologists seek to encourage acceptance of one’s past, excitement and optimism about one’s future experiences, and a sense of contentment and well-being in the present.
Related concepts are happiness, well-being, quality of life, contentment, and meaningful life.
Happiness: Has been sought after and discussed throughout time. Research has concluded that happiness can be thought of in the way we act or what we do and how we think in relative terms to it.
Well-Being: Has often been referred to what is inherently good for an individual both physically and mentally, though other aspects could be added in to define well-being.
Quality of life: Quality of life encompasses more than just physical and mental well-being, it involves socioeconomic factors. It is also perceived differently in different cultures and regions around the world, but can come down to how well you are living and functioning in life.
According to Seligman and Peterson, positive psychology addresses three issues: positive emotions, positive individual traits, and positive institutions. Positive emotions are concerned with being content with one’s past, being happy in the present and having hope for the future. Positive individual traits focus on one’s strengths and virtues. Finally, positive institutions are based on strengths to better a community of people.
According to Peterson, positive psychologists are concerned with four topics: positive experiences, enduring psychological traits, positive relationships, and positive institutions. He also states that topics of interest to topics of interest to researchers in the field are states of pleasure or flow, values, strengths, virtues, talents, as well as the ways that these can be promoted by social systems and institutions.
While the formal discipline of positive psychology has only existed since 2000, the concepts that form the basis of it have been the subject of empirical study since at least the 1980s, and present in religious and philosophical discourse for thousands of years. It has been influenced by humanistic as well as psychodynamic approaches to treatment. Predating the use of the term “positive psychology”, researchers within the field of psychology had been focusing on topics that would now be included under this new denomination.
The term positive psychology dates back at least to 1954, when Maslow’s first edition of Motivation and Personality was published with a final chapter titled “Toward a Positive Psychology.” In the second edition published in 1970, he removed that chapter, saying in the preface that “a positive psychology is at least available today though not very widely.” There have been indications that psychologists since the 1950s have been increasingly focused on the promotion of mental health rather than merely treating mental illness. From the beginning of psychology, the field has addressed the human experience using the “Disease Model,” specifically studying and identifying the dysfunction of an individual.
Positive psychology grew as an important field of study within psychology in 1998 when Martin Seligman chose it as the theme for his term as president of the American Psychological Association. In the first sentence of his book Authentic Happiness, Seligman claimed: “for the last half century psychology has been consumed with a single topic only – mental illness,” expanding on Maslow’s comments. He urged psychologists to continue the earlier missions of psychology of nurturing talent and improving normal life.
The first positive psychology summit took place in 1999. The First International Conference on Positive Psychology took place in 2002. More attention was given by the general public in 2006 when, using the same framework, a course at Harvard University became particularly popular. In June 2009, the First World Congress on Positive Psychology took place at the University of Pennsylvania.
The field of positive psychology today is most advanced in the United States and Western Europe. Even though positive psychology offers a new approach to the study of positive emotions and behaviour, the ideas, theories, research, and motivation to study the positive side of human behaviour is as old as humanity.
Several humanistic psychologists, most notably Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Erich Fromm, developed theories and practices pertaining to human happiness and flourishing. More recently, positive psychologists have found empirical support for the humanistic theories of flourishing. In addition, positive psychology has moved ahead in a variety of new directions.
In 1984, Diener published his tripartite model of subjective well-being, positing “three distinct but often related components of wellbeing: frequent positive affect, infrequent negative affect, and cognitive evaluations such as life satisfaction.” In this model, cognitive, affective and contextual factors contribute to subjective well-being. According to Diener and Suh, subjective well-being is “based on the idea that how each person thinks and feels about his or her life is important.”
Carol Ryff’s Six-factor Model of Psychological Well-being was initially published in 1989, and additional testing of its factors was published in 1995. It postulates six factors which are key for well-being, namely self-acceptance, personal growth, purpose in life, environmental mastery, autonomy, and positive relations with others.
According to Corey Keyes, who collaborated with Carol Ryff and uses the term flourishing as a central concept, mental well-being has three components, namely hedonic (c.q. subjective or emotional), psychological, and social well-being. Hedonic well-being concerns emotional aspects of well-being, whereas psychological and social well-being, c.q. eudaimonic well-being, concerns skills, abilities, and optimal functioning. This tripartite model of mental well-being has received extensive empirical support across cultures.
Influences in Ancient History
While the formal title “positive psychology” has only been in common use since around 2000, the concepts that form the basis of this field have been present in religious and philosophical discourse for thousands of years. The field of psychology predating the use of the term positive psychology has seen researchers who focused primarily on topics that would now be included under the umbrella of positive psychology. Some view positive psychology as a meeting of Eastern thought, such as Buddhism, and Western psychodynamic approaches. The historical roots of positive psychology are found in the teachings of Aristotle, whose Nicomachean Ethics teach the cultivation of moral virtue as the means of attaining happiness and well-being, which he referred to as eudaimonia.
Core Theory and Methods
There is no accepted “gold standard” theory in positive psychology. However, the work of Seligman is regularly quoted. So too the work of Csikszentmihalyi and older models of well-being, such as Carol Ryff’s Six-factor Model of Psychological Well-being and Diener’s tripartite model of subjective well-being.
Initial Theory: Three Paths to Happiness
In Authentic Happiness (2002) Seligman proposed three kinds of a happy life that can be investigated:
Pleasant life: research into the Pleasant Life, or the “life of enjoyment,” examines how people optimally experience, forecast, and savour the positive feelings and emotions that are part of normal and healthy living (e.g. relationships, hobbies, interests, entertainment, etc.). Despite the attention given, Martin Seligman says this most transient element of happiness may be the least important.
Good Life: investigation of the beneficial effects of immersion, absorption, and flow felt by individuals when optimally engaged with their primary activities, is the study of the Good Life, or the “life of engagement.” Flow is experienced when there is a positive match between a person’s strength and their current task, i.e. when one feels confident of accomplishing a chosen or assigned task.
Meaningful Life: inquiry into the Meaningful Life, or “life of affiliation,” questions how individuals derive a positive sense of well-being, belonging, meaning, and purpose from being part of and contributing back to something larger and more permanent than themselves (e.g. nature, social groups, organisations, movements, traditions, belief systems).
In Flourish (2011) Seligman argued that the last category of his proposed three kinds of a happy life, “meaningful life,” can be considered as 3 different categories. The resulting summary for this theory is Seligman’s PERMA acronym: Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and purpose, and Accomplishments. It is a mnemonic for the five elements of Martin Seligman’s well-being theory:
Include a wide range of feelings, not just happiness and joy. Included are emotions like excitement, satisfaction, pride and awe, amongst others. These emotions are frequently seen as connected to positive outcomes, such as longer life and healthier social relationships.
Refers to involvement in activities that draws and builds upon one’s interests. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains true engagement as flow, a state of deep effortless involvement, feeling of intensity that leads to a sense of ecstasy and clarity. The task being done needs to call upon higher skill and be a bit difficult and challenging yet still possible. Engagement involves passion for and concentration on the task at hand and is assessed subjectively as to whether the person engaged was completely absorbed, losing self-consciousness.
Are essential in fuelling positive emotions, whether they are work-related, familial, romantic, or platonic. As Christopher Peterson puts it simply, “other people matter.” Humans receive, share, and spread positivity to others through relationships. They are important not only in bad times, but good times as well. In fact, relationships can be strengthened by reacting to one another positively. It is typical that most positive things take place in the presence of other people.
Is also known as purpose, and prompts the question of “why.” Discovering and figuring out a clear “why” puts everything into context from work to relationships to other parts of life. Finding meaning is learning that there is something greater than one’s self. Despite potential challenges, working with meaning drives people to continue striving for a desirable goal.
Are the pursuit of success and mastery. Unlike the other parts of PERMA, they are sometimes pursued even when accomplishments do not result in positive emotions, meaning, or relationships. That being noted, accomplishments can activate the other elements of PERMA, such as pride, under positive emotion. Accomplishments can be individual or community-based, fun- or work-based.
Each of the five PERMA elements was selected according to three criteria:
It contributes to well-being.
It is pursued for its own sake.
It is defined and measured independently of the other elements.
Character Strengths and Virtues
The development of the Character Strengths and Virtues (CSV) handbook (2004) represented the first attempt by Seligman and Peterson to identify and classify positive psychological traits of human beings. Much like the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of general psychology, the CSV provided a theoretical framework to assist in understanding strengths and virtues and for developing practical applications for positive psychology. This manual identified 6 classes of virtues (i.e. “core virtues”), underlying 24 measurable character strengths.
The CSV suggested these 6 virtues have a historical basis in the vast majority of cultures; in addition, these virtues and strengths can lead to increased happiness when built upon. Notwithstanding numerous cautions and caveats, this suggestion of universality hints threefold:
The study of positive human qualities broadens the scope of psychological research to include mental wellness;
The leaders of the positive psychology movement are challenging moral relativism, suggesting people are “evolutionarily predisposed” toward certain virtues; and
Virtue has a biological basis.
The organisation of the 6 virtues and 24 strengths is as follows:
Wisdom and knowledge: creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective, innovation, prudence.
Temperance: forgiveness and mercy, humility, self control.
Transcendence: appreciation of beauty, gratitude, hope, humour, spirituality.
Recent research challenged the need for 6 virtues. Instead, researchers suggested the 24 strengths are more accurately grouped into just 3 or 4 categories: Intellectual Strengths, Interpersonal Strengths, and Temperance Strengths, or alternatively, Interpersonal Strengths, Fortitude, Vitality, and Cautiousness. These strengths, and their classifications, have emerged independently elsewhere in literature on values. Paul Thagard described examples, which included Jeff Shrager’s workshops to discover the habits of highly creative people. Some research indicates that well-being effects that appear to be due to spirituality are actually better described as due to virtue.
In the 1970s, Hungarian-American psychologist Csikszentmihalyi began studying flow, a state of absorption where one’s abilities are well-matched to the demands at-hand. Flow is characterised by intense concentration, loss of self-awareness, a feeling of being perfectly challenged (neither bored nor overwhelmed), and a sense that “time is flying.” Flow is intrinsically rewarding; it can also assist in the achievement of goals (e.g. winning a game) or improving skills (e.g. becoming a better chess player). Anyone can experience flow and it can be felt in different domains, such as play, creativity, and work. Flow is achieved when the challenge of the situation meets one’s personal abilities. A mismatch of challenge for someone of low skills results in a state of anxiety and feeling overwhelmed; insufficient challenge for someone highly skilled, results in boredom.
Flow can be extremely beneficial when it comes to parenting children. When flow is enhanced between parents and their children, the parents are more capable of thriving in their role as a parent. A parenting style that is positively oriented will also result in children that experience lower levels of stress and overall improve the child’s well-being.
Research Advances and Applications
Topical and methodological development has expanded the field of positive psychology. These advances have enabled the field of positive psychology to grow beyond its core theories and methods. Positive psychology is now a global area of study, with various national indices tracking citizens’ happiness ratings.
Research in positive psychology, well-being, eudaimonia and happiness, and the theories of Diener, Ryff, Keyes and Seligman cover a broad range of topics including “the biological, personal, relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of life.” A meta-analysis on 49 studies in 2009 showed that Positive Psychology Interventions (PPI) produced improvements in well-being and lower depression levels, the PPIs studied included writing gratitude letters, learning optimistic thinking, replaying positive life experiences and socialising with others. In a later meta-analysis of 39 studies with 6,139 participants in 2012, the outcomes were positive. Three to six months after a PPI the effects for subjective well-being and psychological well-being were still significant. However the positive effect was weaker than in the 2009 meta analysis, the authors concluded that this was because they only used higher quality studies. The PPIs they considered included counting blessings, kindness practices, making personal goals, showing gratitude and focusing on personal strengths. Another review of PPIs published in 2018 found that over 78% of intervention studies were conducted in Western countries.
In the textbook Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness, authors Compton and Hoffman give the “Top Down Predictors” of well-being as high self esteem, optimism, self efficacy, a sense of meaning in life and positive relationships with others. The personality traits most associated with well being are extraversion, agreeability and low levels of neuroticism.
In a study published in 2020, students were enrolled in a positive psychology course that focused on improving happiness and well-being through teaching about positive psychology. The participants answer questions pertaining to the 5 categories known as PERMA. At the end of the semester those same students reported significantly higher scores in all categories (p <.001) minus engagement which was significant at p <0.05. One of the aims of this study was to make it rewarding for positive psychology interventions to stay in the participants lives. The authors stated:
“Not only do students learn and get credit, there is also a good chance that many will reap the benefits in what is most important to them—their health, happiness, and well-being.”
Quantitative methods in positive psychology include p-technique factor analysis, dynamic factor analysis, interindividual differences and structural equation modelling, spectral analysis and item response models, dynamic systems analysis, latent growth analysis, latent-class models, hierarchical linear modelling, measurement invariance, experimental methods, behaviour genetics, and integration of quantitative and qualitative approaches.
In a 2012 Journal of Positive Psychology article published by Grant J. Rich, the usage of qualitative methodology to study positive psychology is explored and considered. Author Rich addresses the popularity of quantitative methods in studying the empirical questions that positive psychology presents. He argues that there is an “overemphasis” on quantitative methods and suggests implementing qualitative methods, such as semi-structured interviews, observations, fieldwork, creative artwork, and focus groups. Rich states that qualitative approaches are valuable approaches to studying positive psychology. He writes that usage of qualitative methods will further promote the “flourishing of positive psychology” and encourages such practice.
Changing happiness levels through interventions is a further methodological advancement in the study of positive psychology. Enhancing happiness through behavioural interventions has been the focus of various academic and scientific psychological publications. Happiness-enhancing interventions include expressing kindness, gratitude, optimism, humility, awe, and mindfulness.
In 2005, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Kennon M. Sheldon, and David Schkade co-authored an academic paper published in the Review of General Psychology. In their research, they created a behavioural experiment using two 6-week interventions. One intervention studied was the performance of acts of kindness. The other was focused on gratitude and emphasized the counting of one’s blessings. The study participants who went through the behavioural interventions reported higher levels of happiness and well-being than those who did not participate in either intervention. The paper provides experimental support for the effect of gratitude and kindness on enhancing subjective well-being and happiness.
Further research conducted by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Rene Dickerhoof, Julia K. Boehm, and Kennon M. Sheldon, published in 2011 in the academic journal Emotion, found that the interventions of expressing optimism and expressing gratitude enhanced subjective well-being in participants who took part in the intervention for 8 months. The researchers concluded that interventions are “most successful when participants know about, endorse, and commit to the intervention.” The article provides support that when individuals enthusiastically take part in behavioural interventions, such as expression of optimism and gratitude, they may be engaging in an approach to increase happiness and subjective well-being.
In 2014, Elliott Kruse, Joseph Chancellor, Peter M. Ruberton, and Sonja Lyubomirsky published an academic article in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science. In their research, they study the interaction effects between gratitude and humility through behaviour interventions. The interventions they studied were writing a gratitude letter and writing a 14-day diary. In both interventions, Kruse et al. found that gratitude and humility are connected and are “mutually reinforcing.” The article also discusses how gratitude, and its associated humility, may lead to more positive emotional states and subjective well-being.
Researchers Melanie Rudd, Kathleen D. Vohs, and Jennifer Aaker conducted a series of experiments that showed a positive effect of awe on subjective well-being, publishing their results in 2012 in the academic journal Psychological Science. Their research found that individuals who felt awe also reported feeling higher availability of time, more preference for experiential expenditures than material expenditures, and greater life satisfaction. Experiences that heighten awe may lead to higher levels of life satisfaction and, in turn, higher levels of happiness and subjective well-being.
Mindfulness interventions may also increase happiness. In a Mindfulness article published in 2011 by Torbjörn Josefsson, Pernilla Larsman, Anders G. Broberg, and Lars-Gunnar Lundh, it was found that meditation improves subjective well-being for individuals who mindfully meditate. The researchers note that being mindful in meditation includes awareness and observation of one’s meditation practice, with non-reaction and non-judgemental sentiments during meditation.
National Indices of Happiness
The creation of various national indices of happiness have broadened and expanded the field of positive psychology to a global scale.
In a January 2000 academic article published in American Psychologist, psychologist Ed Diener proposed and argued for the creation of a national happiness index in the United States. Such an index would provide measurements of happiness, or subjective well-being, within the United States and across many other countries in the world. Diener argued that national indices would be helpful markers or indicators of population happiness, providing a sense of current ratings and a tracker of happiness across time. Diener proposed that the national index include various sub-measurements of subjective well-being, including “pleasant affect, unpleasant affect, life satisfaction, fulfillment, and more specific states such as stress, affection, trust, and joy.”
In 2012, the first World Happiness Report was published. The World Happiness Report was initiated by the UN General Assembly in June 2011, which passed the Bhutanese Resolution. The Bhutanese Resolution called for nations across the world to “give more importance to happiness and well-being in determining how to achieve and measure social and economic development.” The data for the World Happiness Reports is collected in partnership with the Gallup World Poll’s life evaluations and annual happiness rankings. The World Happiness Report bases its national rankings on how happy constituents self-report and believe themselves to be.
The first World Happiness Report, published in 2012, is a 170-page report that details the state of world happiness, the causes of happiness and misery, policy implications from happiness reports, and three case studies of subjective well-being for:
Bhutan and its Gross National Happiness index;
The UK Office for National Statistics Experience; and
Happiness in the member countries within the OECD.
The World Happiness Report published in 2020 is the 8th publication in the series of reports. It is the first World Happiness Report to include happiness rankings of cities across the world, in addition to rankings of 156 countries. The city of Helsinki, Finland was reported as the city with the highest subjective well-being ranking, and the country of Finland was reported as the country with the highest subjective well-being ranking for the third year in a row. The 2020 report provides insights on happiness based on environmental conditions, social conditions, urban-rural happiness differentials, and sustainable development. It also provides overview and possible explanations for why Nordic countries have consistently ranked in the top ten happiest countries in the World Happiness Report since 2013. Possible explanations include Nordic countries’ high-quality government benefits and protections to its citizens, including welfare benefits and well-operated democratic institutions, as well as social connections, bonding, and trust.
Additional national well-being indices and reported statistics include the Gallup Global Emotions Report, Gallup Sharecare Well-Being Index, Global Happiness Council’s Global Happiness and Well-being Policy Report, Happy Planet Index, Indigo Wellness Index, OECD Better Life Index, and UN Human Development Reports.
Influences on other Academic Fields
Positive psychology has influenced a variety of other academic fields of study and scholarship. It has been applied to various other areas of scholarship, most notably organizational behaviour, education and psychiatry.
Positive Organisational Scholarship (POS)
Positive Organisational Scholarship (POS), also referred to as Positive Organisational Behaviour (POB), began as a direct application of positive psychology to the field of organisational behaviour. One of the first times the term was officially defined and published was in 2003, in the text Positive Organisational Scholarship: Foundations of a New Discipline edited by University of Michigan Ross School of Business professors Kim S. Cameron, Jane E. Dutton, and Robert E. Quinn. In the first chapter of the text, Cameron, Dutton, and Quinn promote “the best of the human condition,” such as goodness, compassion, resilience, and positive human potential, as an organisational goal as important as financial organisational success. The goal of POS is to study the factors that create positive work experiences and successful, people-oriented organisational outcomes.
A large collection of POS research is contained in the 2011 volume The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organisational Scholarship, edited by University of Michigan Ross School of Business Professors Kim S. Cameron and Gretchen M. Spreitzer. This 1076-page volume encompasses nine sections and 79 chapters spanning various topics. Major topics include positive human resource practices, positive organisational practices, and positive leadership and change. Much of the volume expands upon and applies core concepts of positive psychology to the workplace context, covering areas such as positive individual attributes, positive emotions, strengths and virtues, and positive relationships. A further definition of POS, as written by editors Cameron and Spreitzer:
Positive organizational scholarship rigorously seeks to understand what represents the best of the human condition based on scholarly research and theory. Just as positive psychology focuses on exploring optimal individual psychological states rather than pathological ones, organizational scholarship focuses attention on the generative dynamics in organizations that lead to the development of human strength, foster resiliency in employees, enable healing and restoration, and cultivate extraordinary individual and organizational performance. POS emphasizes what elevates individuals and organizations (in addition to what challenges them), what goes right in organizations (in addition to what goes wrong), what is life-giving (in addition to what is problematic or life-depleting), what is experienced as good (in addition to what is objectionable), and what is inspiring (in addition to what is difficult or arduous). (Cameron, Kim S.; Spreitzer, Gretchen M. (2011). “Chapter 1. Introduction: What is Positive about Positive Organizational Scholarship?”. In Spreitzer, Gretchen M.; Cameron, Kim S. (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship.)
Positive psychology has influenced psychiatry by providing additional therapeutic and cognitive behaviour shifts, including well-being therapy, positive psychotherapy, and practicing an integration of positive psychology in therapeutic practice.
In an 2015 academic article published in Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, Mills and Kreutzer argue for the principles of positive psychology to be implemented to assist those recovering from traumatic brain injury (TBI). They make the case that TBI rehabilitation practices rely on the betterment of the individual through engaging in everyday practices, a practice significantly related to tenets of positive psychology. Their proposal to connect positive psychology with TBI vocational rehabilitation (VR) also looks at happiness and its correlation with improvements in mental health, including increased confidence and productivity, as well as others. While the authors point out that empirical evidence for positive psychology is limited, they clarify that positive psychology’s focus on small successes, optimism and prosocial behaviour is promising for improvements in the social and emotional well-being of TBI patients.
The study of positive psychology has been translated into various popular media outlets, including books and films, and has been an influencing factor in the wellness industry.
There have been several popular psychology books written by positive psychologists for a general audience.
Ilona Boniwell, in her book Positive Psychology in a Nutshell, provided a summary of the current research. According to Boniwell, well-being is related to optimism, extraversion, social connections (i.e. close friendships), being married, having engaging work, religion or spirituality, leisure, good sleep and exercise, social class (through lifestyle differences and better coping methods) and subjective health (what you think about your health). Boniwell further writes that well-being is not related to age, physical attractiveness, money (once basic needs are met), gender (women are more often depressed but also more often joyful), educational level, having children (although they add meaning to life), moving to a sunnier climate, crime prevention, housing and objective health (what doctors say).
Sonja Lyubomirsky, in her book The How of Happiness, provides advice and guidance on how to improve happiness. According to The How of Happiness, individuals should create new habits, seek out new emotions, use variety and timing to prevent hedonic adaptation, and enlist others to motivate and support during the creation of those new habits. Lyubomirsky gives 12 happiness activities, including savouring life, learning to forgive, and living in the present.
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert is another popular book that shares positive psychology research findings for a general readership audience. Gilbert presents research suggesting that individuals are often poor at predicting what will make them happy in the future and that individuals are prone to misevaluating the causes of their happiness. He also notes that the subjectivity of subjective well-being and happiness often is the most difficult challenge to overcome in predicting future happiness, noting that our future selves may have different subjective perspectives on life than our current selves.
Coverage of positive psychology has entered the film industry. Similarly, films have provided the basis of new research within positive psychology.
Happy (2011 film) is a full-length documentary film covering overviewing the fields of positive psychology and neuroscience. It also highlights various case studies on happiness across diverse cultures and geographies. The film features interviews with notable positive psychologists and scholars, including Daniel Gilbert, Ed Diener, Sonja Lyubomirsky, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
The Positive Psychology News website includes a section on annual Positive Psychology Movie Awards. The Positive Psychology Movie Awards ranks a short list of feature films of 2009, 2014, and annually between 2016 and 2018 that feature powerful messages of positive psychology. The rankings are according to the website’s author, Ryan Niemiec, Psy.D, who is a psychologist, coach, and education director of the VIA Institute on Character. The Positive Psychology Movie Awards presents separate awards for categories including: Best Positive Psychology Film, Award for Positive Relationships, Award for Meaning, Award for Achievement, Award for Mindfulness, Award for Happiness, Signature Strengths Use, among others.
Further research done on positive psychology as represented in feature films has been done in association with the VIA Institute. Contemporary and popular films that promote or represent character strengths are the basis for various academic articles.
The growing popularity and attention given to positive psychology research has influenced industry growth, development, and consumption of products and services meant to cater to wellness and well-being.
According to the Global Wellness Institute, as of 2018, the global wellness economy is valued at $4.5 trillion and the wellness industry represents 5.3% of global economic output. Key sectors of the wellness industry include workplace wellness, fitness and mind-body, personal care, and wellness lifestyle.
Highlighting happiness and well-being has been a strategy harnessed by various companies in their marketing strategies. Food and beverage companies such as Coca-Cola and Pocky, whose motto is “Share happiness!”, emphasize happiness in their commercials, branding, and descriptions. CEOs at retail companies such as Zappos have profited by publishing books detailing their deliverance of happiness, while Amazon’s logo features a dimpled smile.
Positive psychology has been criticized in many different aspects from its conception continuing into the present day.
In 1988, psychologists Shelley E. Taylor and Jonathan D. Brown co-authored a Psychological Bulletin article that coined the phrase positive illusions. Positive illusions are the cognitive processes individuals engage in when self-aggrandising or self-enhancing. They are the unrealistically positive or self-affirming attitudes that individuals hold of themselves, their position, or their environment. In essence, positive illusions are attitudes of extreme optimism that endure even in the face of facts and real conditions. Taylor and Brown suggested that positive illusions protect individuals from negative feedback that they might receive, and this, in turn, preserves their psychological adaptation and subjective well-being. However, later research has found that engaging in positive illusions and related attitudes has led to psychological maladaptive conditions. These conditions include poorer social relationships, expressions of narcissism, and negative workplace outcomes, thus reducing the positive effects that positive illusions have on subjective well-being, overall happiness, and life satisfaction.
Kirk Schneider, editor of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, has said that positive psychology fails to explain past heinous behaviours such as those perpetrated by the Nazi party, Stalinist marches and Klan gatherings, to identify but a few. He also pointed to a body of research showing high positivity correlates with positive illusion, which effectively distorts reality. The extent of the downfall of high positivity or flourishing is one could become incapable of psychological growth, unable to self-reflect, and tend to hold racial biases. By contrast, negativity, sometimes evidenced in mild to moderate depression, is correlated with less distortion of reality. Therefore, Schneider argues, negativity might play an important role within the dynamics of human flourishing. To illustrate, conflict engagement and acknowledgement of appropriate negativity, including certain negative emotions like guilt, might better promote flourishing. Overall, Schneider provided perspective: “perhaps genuine happiness is not something you aim at, but is…a by-product of a life well lived – and a life well lived does not settle on the programmed or neatly calibrated.”
In 2003, Ian Sample, writing for The Guardian, noted that, “Positive psychologists also stand accused of burying their heads in the sand and ignoring that depressed, even merely unhappy people, have real problems that need dealing with.” He also quoted Steven Wolin, a clinical psychiatrist at George Washington University, as saying that the study of positive psychology is just a reiteration of older ways of thinking, and that there is not much scientific research to support the efficacy of this method. Gable responds to criticism on their Pollyanna view on the world by saying that they are just bringing a balance to a side of psychology that is glaringly understudied. To defend his point, Gable points to the imbalances favouring research into negative psychological well-being in cognitive psychology, health psychology, and social psychology.
Martin Jack has also maintained that positive psychology is not unique in its optimistic approach to looking at optimal emotional well-being, stating that other forms of psychology, such as counselling and educational psychology, are also interested in positive human fulfilment. He goes on to mention that, while positive psychology has pushed for schools to be more student-centred and able to foster positive self-images in children, he worries that a lack of focus on self-control may prevent children from making full contributions to society. If positive psychology is not implemented correctly, it can cause more harm than good. This is the case, for example, when interventions in school are coercive (in the sense of being imposed on everyone without regard for the individual child’s reason for negativity) and fail to take each student’s context into account.
Role of Negativity
Barbara S. Held, a professor at Bowdoin College, argued that while positive psychology makes contributions to the field of psychology, it has its faults. She offered insight into topics including the negative side effects of positive psychology, negativity within the positive psychology movement, and the current division in the field of psychology caused by differing opinions of psychologists on positive psychology. In addition, she noted the movement’s lack of consistency regarding the role of negativity. She also raised issues with the simplistic approach taken by some psychologists in the application of positive psychology. A “one size fits all” approach is arguably not beneficial to the advancement of the field of positive psychology; she suggested a need for individual differences to be incorporated into its application. By teaching young people that being confident and optimistic leads to success, when they are unsuccessful they will begin to believe it is because they are insecure or pessimistic. This could lead them to believe that any negative internal thought or feeling they may experience is damaging to their happiness and should be steered clear of completely.
A recent critical response to the field of positive psychology is that around toxic positivity. Toxic positivity is the phenomenon in which individuals do not fully acknowledge, process, or manage the entire spectrum of human emotion, including anger and sadness. This genre of criticism against positive psychology argues that the field of positive psychology places too much importance on “upbeat thinking, while shunting challenging and difficult experiences to the side.” Individuals who engage in a constant chase for positive experiences or states of high subjective well-being may be inadvertently stigmatizing negative emotional conditions, such as depression, or may be suppressing natural emotional responses, such as sadness, regret, or stress. Furthermore, by not allowing negative emotional states to be experienced, or by suppressing and hiding negative emotional responses, individuals may experience harmful physical, cardiovascular and respiratory consequences. Proponents of combating toxic positivity advocate allowing oneself to accept and fully experience negative emotional states.
Methodological and Philosophical Critiques
Richard Lazarus, who was well known in psychology for his Cognitive-Motivational-Relational theory of emotions, has thoroughly critiqued positive psychology’s methodological and philosophical components. He holds that giving more detail and insight into the positive is not bad, but not at the expense of the negative aspect because the two (positive and negative) are inseparable. The first methodological issue noted is positive psychology’s use of correlational and cross-sectional research designs to indicate causality between the movement’s ideas and healthy lives; there could be other factors not researched and time differences that account for healthier lives that the researchers do not account for. Secondly, he considers that emotions cannot be categorised dichotomously into positive and negative; by nature, emotions are subjective and rich in social/relational meaning. Additionally, he claims that emotions are fluid, meaning that the context they appear in changes over time. He states that “all emotions have the potential of being either one or the other, or both, on different occasions, and even on the same occasion when an emotion is experienced by different persons” The third issue is the neglect of individual differences in most social science research. Many research designs focus on the statistical significance of the groups while overlooking differences among individuals. Lazarus’s final methodological complaint is social science researchers’ tendency to not adequately define and measure emotions. Most assessments are quick checklists and do not provide adequate debriefing. Many researchers do not differentiate between fluid emotional states and relatively stable personality traits.
Lazarus further holds that positive psychology claims to be new and innovative although the majority of research on stress and coping theory make much of the same claims as positive psychology. The movement attempts to uplift and reinforce the positive aspects of one’s life, but everyone in life experiences stress and hardship. Coping through these events should not be looked at as adapting to failures, but should be regarded as successfully navigating stress, but the movement doesn’t hold that perspective.
The US Army’s Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Programme
The Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) programme was established in 2008 by then-Chief of Staff of the United States Army, General George W. Casey, Jr., in an effort to address the increasing rates of drug abuse, family violence, PTSD, and suicide among soldiers. The Army contracted with Martin Seligman’s Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Pennsylvania to supply a program closely based on the centre’s Penn Resiliency Programme, which was designed for 10- to 14-year-old children. Although Seligman proposed starting with a small-scale pilot-test, General Casey insisted on immediately rolling out the CSF to the entire Army. Interviewed for the journal Monitor on Psychology of the American Psychological Association, Seligman said that “This is the largest study—1.1 million soldiers—psychology has ever been involved in.” According to journalist Jesse Singal, “It would become one of the largest mental-health interventions geared at a single population in the history of humanity, and possibly the most expensive.”
Some psychologists have criticized the CSF for various reasons. Nicholas J.L. Brown wrote that “The idea that techniques that have demonstrated, at best, marginal effects in reducing depressive symptoms in school-age children could also prevent the onset of a condition that is associated with some of the most extreme situations with which humans can be confronted is a remarkable one that does not seem to be backed up by empirical evidence.” Stephen Soldz of the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis cited Seligman’s acknowledgment that the CSF is a gigantic study rather than a program based on proven techniques, and questioned the ethics of requiring soldiers to participate in research without informed consent. Soldz also criticised the CSF training for trying to build up-beat attitudes toward combat: “Might soldiers who have been trained to resiliently view combat as a growth opportunity be more likely to ignore or under-estimate real dangers, thereby placing themselves, their comrades, or civilians at heightened risk of harm?”
In 2021 the Chronicle of Higher Education carried a debate between Singal and Seligman about whether, with the CSF well into its second decade, there was any solid evidence of its effectiveness. Singal cited studies that, he said, failed to find any measurable benefits in such positive psychology techniques, and he criticized the Army’s own reports as methodologically unsound and lacking peer review. Seligman said that Singal had misinterpreted the studies and ignored the Army’s positive feedback from soldiers, one of whom told Seligman that “if I had had this training years ago, it would have saved my marriage.”
Being “at peace” is considered by many to be healthy (homeostasis) and the opposite of being stressed or anxious, and is considered to be a state where our mind performs at an optimal level with a positive outcome. Peace of mind is thus generally associated with bliss, happiness and contentment.
Peace of mind, serenity, and calmness are descriptions of a disposition free from the effects of stress. In some cultures, inner peace is considered a state of consciousness or enlightenment that may be cultivated by various forms of training, such as breathing exercises, prayer, meditation, tai chi or yoga, for example. Many spiritual practices refer to this peace as an experience of knowing oneself.
People have difficulties embracing their inner spirituality because everyday stressors get the best of them; finding peace and happiness in the little joys of life can seem difficult, and results do not seem all that gratifying. Achieving spirituality is a step-by-step process; there are ways through which one can become more spiritual every day.
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, emphasizes the importance of inner peace in the world:
The question of real, lasting world peace concerns human beings, so basic human feelings are also at its roots. Through inner peace, genuine world peace can be achieved. In this the importance of individual responsibility is quite clear; an atmosphere of peace must first be created within ourselves, then gradually expanded to include our families, our communities, and ultimately the whole planet.
Eudaimonia (Greek: εὐδαιμονία [eu̯dai̯moníaː]; sometimes anglicised as eudaemonia or eudemonia) is a Greek word literally translating to the state or condition of ‘good spirit’, and which is commonly translated as ‘happiness’ or ‘welfare’.
In the works of Aristotle, eudaimonia was the term for the highest human good in older Greek tradition. It is the aim of practical philosophy, including ethics and political philosophy, to consider and experience what this state really is, and how it can be achieved. It is thus a central concept in Aristotelian ethics and subsequent Hellenistic philosophy, along with the terms aretē (most often translated as ‘virtue’ or ‘excellence’) and phronesis” (‘practical or ethical wisdom’).
Discussion of the links between ēthikē aretē (virtue of character) and eudaimonia (happiness) is one of the central concerns of ancient ethics, and a subject of much disagreement. As a result, there are many varieties of eudaimonism.
Definition and Etymology
In terms of its etymology, eudaimonia is an abstract noun derived from the words eû (‘good, well’) and daímōn (‘dispenser, tutelary deity’), the latter referring maybe to a minor deity or a guardian spirit.
Semantically speaking, the word δαίμων (daímōn) derives from the same root of the Ancient Greek verb δαίομαι (daíomai, “to divide”) allowing to rethink the following concept of eudaimonia as an “activity linked with dividing or dispensing, in a good way”.
Definitions, a dictionary of Greek philosophical terms attributed to Plato himself but believed by modern scholars to have been written by his immediate followers in the Academy, provides the following definition of the word eudaimonia: “The good composed of all goods; an ability which suffices for living well; perfection in respect of virtue; resources sufficient for a living creature.”
In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle says that everyone agrees that eudaimonia is the highest good for humans, but that there is substantial disagreement on what sort of life counts as doing and living well; i.e. eudaimon:
Verbally there is a very general agreement; for both the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it is [eudaimonia], and identify living well and faring well with being happy; but with regard to what [eudaimonia] is they differ, and the many do not give the same account as the wise. For the former think it is some plain and obvious thing like pleasure, wealth or honour…
So, as Aristotle points out, saying that eudaimon life is a life which is objectively desirable, and means living well, is not saying very much. Everyone wants to be eudaimon; and everyone agrees that being eudaimon is related to faring well and to an individual’s well-being. The really difficult question is to specify just what sort of activities enable one to live well. Aristotle presents various popular conceptions of the best life for human beings. The candidates that he mentions are:
A life of pleasure;
A life of political activity; and
A philosophical life.
Eudaimonia and Areté
One important move in Greek philosophy to answer the question of how to achieve eudaimonia is to bring in another important concept in ancient philosophy, aretē (‘virtue’). Aristotle says that the eudaimon life is one of “virtuous activity in accordance with reason”; even Epicurus, who argues that the eudaimon life is the life of pleasure, maintains that the life of pleasure coincides with the life of virtue. So, the ancient ethical theorists tend to agree that virtue is closely bound up with happiness (areté is bound up with eudaimonia). However, they disagree on the way in which this is so.
One problem with the English translation of areté as ‘virtue’ is that we are inclined to understand virtue in a moral sense, which is not always what the ancients had in mind. For a Greek, areté pertains to all sorts of qualities we would not regard as relevant to ethics, for example, physical beauty. So it is important to bear in mind that the sense of ‘virtue’ operative in ancient ethics is not exclusively moral and includes more than states such as wisdom, courage and compassion. The sense of virtue which areté connotes would include saying something like “speed is a virtue in a horse,” or “height is a virtue in a basketball player.” Doing anything well requires virtue, and each characteristic activity (such as carpentry, flute playing, etc.) has its own set of virtues. The alternative translation ‘excellence’ (or ‘a desirable quality’) might be helpful in conveying this general meaning of the term. The moral virtues are simply a subset of the general sense in which a human being is capable of functioning well or excellently.
Eudaimonia and Happiness
Eudaimonia implies a positive and divine state of being that humanity is able to strive toward and possibly reach. A literal view of eudaimonia means achieving a state of being similar to benevolent deity, or being protected and looked after by a benevolent deity. As this would be considered the most positive state to be in, the word is often translated as ‘happiness’ although incorporating the divine nature of the word extends the meaning to also include the concepts of being fortunate, or blessed. Despite this etymology, however, discussions of eudaimonia in ancient Greek ethics are often conducted independently of any super-natural significance.
In his Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle says that eudaimonia means ‘doing and living well’. It is significant that synonyms for eudaimonia are living well and doing well. On the standard English translation, this would be to say that ‘happiness is doing well and living well’. The word happiness does not entirely capture the meaning of the Greek word. One important difference is that happiness often connotes being or tending to be in a certain pleasant state of mind. For example, when one says that someone is “a very happy person,” one usually means that they seem subjectively contented with the way things are going in their life. They mean to imply that they feel good about the way things are going for them. In contrast, Aristotle suggests that eudaimonia is a more encompassing notion than feeling happy since events that do not contribute to one’s experience of feeling happy may affect one’s eudaimonia.
Eudaimonia depends on all the things that would make us happy if we knew of their existence, but quite independently of whether we do know about them. Ascribing eudaimonia to a person, then, may include ascribing such things as being virtuous, being loved and having good friends. But these are all objective judgments about someone’s life: they concern a person’s really being virtuous, really being loved, and really having fine friends. This implies that a person who has evil sons and daughters will not be judged to be eudaimonic even if he or she does not know that they are evil and feels pleased and contented with the way they have turned out (happy). Conversely, being loved by your children would not count towards your happiness if you did not know that they loved you (and perhaps thought that they did not), but it would count towards your eudaimonia. So, eudaimonia corresponds to the idea of having an objectively good or desirable life, to some extent independently of whether one knows that certain things exist or not. It includes conscious experiences of well-being, success, and failure, but also a whole lot more.
Because of this discrepancy between the meanings of eudaimonia and happiness, some alternative translations have been proposed. W.D. Ross suggests ‘well-being’ and John Cooper proposes ‘flourishing’. These translations may avoid some of the misleading associations carried by “happiness” although each tends to raise some problems of its own. In some modern texts therefore, the other alternative is to leave the term in an English form of the original Greek, as eudaimonia.
Classical Views on Eudaimonia and Aretē
What is known of Socrates’ philosophy is almost entirely derived from Plato’s writings. Scholars typically divide Plato’s works into three periods: the early, middle, and late periods. They tend to agree also that Plato’s earliest works quite faithfully represent the teachings of Socrates and that Plato’s own views, which go beyond those of Socrates, appear for the first time in the middle works such as the Phaedo and the Republic.
As with all ancient ethical thinkers, Socrates thought that all human beings wanted eudaimonia more than anything else. However, Socrates adopted a quite radical form of eudaimonism (see above): he seems to have thought that virtue is both necessary and sufficient for eudaimonia. Socrates is convinced that virtues such as self-control, courage, justice, piety, wisdom and related qualities of mind and soul are absolutely crucial if a person is to lead a good and happy (eudaimon) life. Virtues guarantee a happy life eudaimonia. For example, in the Meno, with respect to wisdom, he says: “everything the soul endeavours or endures under the guidance of wisdom ends in happiness”.
In the Apology, Socrates clearly presents his disagreement with those who think that the eudaimon life is the life of honour or pleasure, when he chastises the Athenians for caring more for riches and honour than the state of their souls.
Good Sir, you are an Athenian, a citizen of the greatest city with the greatest reputation for both wisdom and power; are you not ashamed of your eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation, and honors as possible, while you do not care for nor give thought to wisdom or truth or the best possible state of your soul. … [I]t does not seem like human nature for me to have neglected all my own affairs and to have tolerated this neglect for so many years while I was always concerned with you, approaching each one of you like a father or an elder brother to persuade you to care for virtue.
It emerges a bit further on that this concern for one’s soul, that one’s soul might be in the best possible state, amounts to acquiring moral virtue. So Socrates’ pointing out that the Athenians should care for their souls means that they should care for their virtue, rather than pursuing honour or riches. Virtues are states of the soul. When a soul has been properly cared for and perfected it possesses the virtues. Moreover, according to Socrates, this state of the soul, moral virtue, is the most important good. The health of the soul is incomparably more important for eudaimonia than (e.g.) wealth and political power. Someone with a virtuous soul is better off than someone who is wealthy and honoured but whose soul is corrupted by unjust actions. This view is confirmed in the Crito, where Socrates gets Crito to agree that the perfection of the soul, virtue, is the most important good:
And is life worth living for us with that part of us corrupted that unjust action harms and just action benefits? Or do we think that part of us, whatever it is, that is concerned with justice and injustice, is inferior to the body? Not at all. It is much more valuable…? Much more…
Here, Socrates argues that life is not worth living if the soul is ruined by wrongdoing. In summary, Socrates seems to think that virtue is both necessary and sufficient for eudaimonia. A person who is not virtuous cannot be happy, and a person with virtue cannot fail to be happy. We shall see later on that Stoic ethics takes its cue from this Socratic insight.
Plato’s great work of the middle period, the Republic, is devoted to answering a challenge made by the sophist Thrasymachus, that conventional morality, particularly the ‘virtue’ of justice, actually prevents the strong man from achieving eudaimonia. Thrasymachus’s views are restatements of a position which Plato discusses earlier on in his writings, in the Gorgias, through the mouthpiece of Callicles. The basic argument presented by Thrasymachus and Callicles is that justice (being just) hinders or prevents the achievement of eudaimonia because conventional morality requires that we control ourselves and hence live with un-satiated desires. This idea is vividly illustrated in book 2 of the Republic when Glaucon, taking up Thrasymachus’ challenge, recounts a myth of the magical ring of Gyges. According to the myth, Gyges becomes king of Lydia when he stumbles upon a magical ring, which, when he turns it a particular way, makes him invisible, so that he can satisfy any desire he wishes without fear of punishment. When he discovers the power of the ring he kills the king, marries his wife and takes over the throne. The thrust of Glaucon’s challenge is that no one would be just if he could escape the retribution he would normally encounter for fulfilling his desires at whim. But if eudaimonia is to be achieved through the satisfaction of desire, whereas being just or acting justly requires suppression of desire, then it is not in the interests of the strong man to act according to the dictates of conventional morality (This general line of argument reoccurs much later in the philosophy of Nietzsche). Throughout the rest of the Republic, Plato aims to refute this claim by showing that the virtue of justice is necessary for eudaimonia.
The argument of the Republic is lengthy and complex. In brief, Plato argues that virtues are states of the soul, and that the just person is someone whose soul is ordered and harmonious, with all its parts functioning properly to the person’s benefit. In contrast, Plato argues that the unjust man’s soul, without the virtues, is chaotic and at war with itself, so that even if he were able to satisfy most of his desires, his lack of inner harmony and unity thwart any chance he has of achieving eudaimonia. Plato’s ethical theory is eudaimonistic because it maintains that eudaimonia depends on virtue. On Plato’s version of the relationship, virtue is depicted as the most crucial and the dominant constituent of eudaimonia.
Aristotle’s account is articulated in the Nicomachean Ethics and the Eudemian Ethics. In outline, for Aristotle, eudaimonia involves activity, exhibiting virtue (aretē sometimes translated as excellence) in accordance with reason. This conception of eudaimonia derives from Aristotle’s essentialist understanding of human nature, the view that reason (logos sometimes translated as rationality) is unique to human beings and that the ideal function or work (ergon) of a human being is the fullest or most perfect exercise of reason. Basically, well-being (eudaimonia) is gained by proper development of one’s highest and most human capabilities and human beings are “the rational animal”. It follows that eudaimonia for a human being is the attainment of excellence (areté) in reason.
According to Aristotle, eudaimonia actually requires activity, action, so that it is not sufficient for a person to possess a squandered ability or disposition. Eudaimonia requires not only good character but rational activity. Aristotle clearly maintains that to live in accordance with reason means achieving excellence thereby. Moreover, he claims this excellence cannot be isolated and so competencies are also required appropriate to related functions. For example, if being a truly outstanding scientist requires impressive math skills, one might say “doing mathematics well is necessary to be a first rate scientist”. From this it follows that eudaimonia, living well, consists in activities exercising the rational part of the psyche in accordance with the virtues or excellency of reason. Which is to say, to be fully engaged in the intellectually stimulating and fulfilling work at which one achieves well-earned success. The rest of the Nicomachean Ethics is devoted to filling out the claim that the best life for a human being is the life of excellence in accordance with reason. Since reason for Aristotle is not only theoretical but practical as well, he spends quite a bit of time discussing excellence of character, which enables a person to exercise his practical reason (i.e. reason relating to action) successfully.
Aristotle’s ethical theory is eudaimonist because it maintains that eudaimonia depends on virtue. However, it is Aristotle’s explicit view that virtue is necessary but not sufficient for eudaimonia. While emphasizing the importance of the rational aspect of the psyche, he does not ignore the importance of other ‘goods’ such as friends, wealth, and power in a life that is eudaimonic. He doubts the likelihood of being eudaimonic if one lacks certain external goods such as ‘good birth, good children, and beauty’. So, a person who is hideously ugly or has “lost children or good friends through death”, or who is isolated, is unlikely to be eudaimon. In this way, “dumb luck” (chance) can pre-empt one’s attainment of eudaimonia.
Pyrrho was the founder of Pyrrhonism. A summary of his approach to eudaimonia was preserved by Eusebius, quoting Aristocles of Messene, quoting Timon of Phlius, in what is known as the “Aristocles passage.”
Whoever wants eudaimonia must consider these three questions: First, how are pragmata (ethical matters, affairs, topics) by nature? Secondly, what attitude should we adopt towards them? Thirdly, what will be the outcome for those who have this attitude?” Pyrrho’s answer is that “As for pragmata they are all adiaphora (undifferentiated by a logical differentia), astathmēta (unstable, unbalanced, not measurable), and anepikrita (unjudged, unfixed, undecidable). Therefore, neither our sense-perceptions nor our doxai (views, theories, beliefs) tell us the truth or lie; so we certainly should not rely on them. Rather, we should be adoxastoi (without views), aklineis (uninclined toward this side or that), and akradantoi (unwavering in our refusal to choose), saying about every single one that it no more is than it is not or it both is and is not or it neither is nor is not.
With respect to aretē, the Pyrrhonist philosopher Sextus Empiricus said:
If one defines a system as an attachment to a number of dogmas that agree with one another and with appearances, and defines a dogma as an assent to something non-evident, we shall say that the Pyrrhonist does not have a system. But if one says that a system is a way of life that, in accordance with appearances, follows a certain rationale, where that rationale shows how it is possible to seem to live rightly (“rightly” being taken, not as referring only to aretē, but in a more ordinary sense) and tends to produce the disposition to suspend judgment, then we say that he does have a system.
Epicurus’ ethical theory is hedonistic (His view proved very influential on the founders and best proponents of utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill). Hedonism is the view that pleasure is the only intrinsic good and that pain is the only intrinsic bad. An object, experience or state of affairs is intrinsically valuable if it is good simply because of what it is. Intrinsic value is to be contrasted with instrumental value. An object, experience or state of affairs is instrumentally valuable if it serves as a means to what is intrinsically valuable. To see this, consider the following example. Suppose a person spends their days and nights in an office, working at not entirely pleasant activities for the purpose of receiving money. Someone asks them “why do you want the money?”, and they answer: “So, I can buy an apartment overlooking the ocean, and a red sports car.” This answer expresses the point that money is instrumentally valuable because its value lies in what one obtains by means of it – in this case, the money is a means to getting an apartment and a sports car and the value of making this money dependent on the price of these commodities.
Epicurus identifies the good life with the life of pleasure. He understands eudaimonia as a more or less continuous experience of pleasure and, also, freedom from pain and distress. But it is important to notice that Epicurus does not advocate that one pursue any and every pleasure. Rather, he recommends a policy whereby pleasures are maximised “in the long run”. In other words, Epicurus claims that some pleasures are not worth having because they lead to greater pains, and some pains are worthwhile when they lead to greater pleasures. The best strategy for attaining a maximal amount of pleasure overall is not to seek instant gratification but to work out a sensible long term policy.
Ancient Greek ethics is eudaimonist because it links virtue and eudaimonia, where eudaimonia refers to an individual’s well-being. Epicurus’ doctrine can be considered eudaimonist since Epicurus argues that a life of pleasure will coincide with a life of virtue. He believes that we do and ought to seek virtue because virtue brings pleasure. Epicurus’ basic doctrine is that a life of virtue is the life which generates the most amount of pleasure, and it is for this reason that we ought to be virtuous. This thesis – the eudaimon life is the pleasurable life – is not a tautology as “eudaimonia is the good life” would be: rather, it is the substantive and controversial claim that a life of pleasure and absence of pain is what eudaimonia consists in.
One important difference between Epicurus’ eudaimonism and that of Plato and Aristotle is that for the latter virtue is a constituent of eudaimonia, whereas Epicurus makes virtue a means to happiness. To this difference, consider Aristotle’s theory. Aristotle maintains that eudaimonia is what everyone wants (and Epicurus would agree). He also thinks that eudaimonia is best achieved by a life of virtuous activity in accordance with reason. The virtuous person takes pleasure in doing the right thing as a result of a proper training of moral and intellectual character. However, Aristotle does not think that virtuous activity is pursued for the sake of pleasure. Pleasure is a byproduct of virtuous action: it does not enter at all into the reasons why virtuous action is virtuous. Aristotle does not think that we literally aim for eudaimonia. Rather, eudaimonia is what we achieve (assuming that we are not particularly unfortunate in the possession of external goods) when we live according to the requirements of reason. Virtue is the largest constituent in a eudaimon life. By contrast, Epicurus holds that virtue is the means to achieve happiness. His theory is eudaimonist in that he holds that virtue is indispensable to happiness; but virtue is not a constituent of a eudaimon life, and being virtuous is not (external goods aside) identical with being eudaimon. Rather, according to Epicurus, virtue is only instrumentally related to happiness. So whereas Aristotle would not say that one ought to aim for virtue in order to attain pleasure, Epicurus would endorse this claim.
Stoic philosophy begins with Zeno of Citium c. 300 BC, and was developed by Cleanthes (331-232 BC) and Chrysippus (c. 280-c. 206 BC) into a formidable systematic unity. Zeno believed happiness was a “good flow of life”; Cleanthes suggested it was “living in agreement with nature”, and Chrysippus believed it was “living in accordance with experience of what happens by nature.” Stoic ethics is a particularly strong version of eudaimonism. According to the Stoics, virtue is necessary and sufficient for eudaimonia. (This thesis is generally regarded as stemming from the Socrates of Plato’s earlier dialogues.)
We saw earlier that the conventional Greek concept of arete is not quite the same as that denoted by virtue, which has Christian connotations of charity, patience, and uprightness, since arete includes many non-moral virtues such as physical strength and beauty. However, the Stoic concept of arete is much nearer to the Christian conception of virtue, which refers to the moral virtues. However, unlike Christian understandings of virtue, righteousness or piety, the Stoic conception does not place as great an emphasis on mercy, forgiveness, self-abasement (i.e. the ritual process of declaring complete powerlessness and humility before God), charity and self-sacrificial love, though these behaviours/mentalities are not necessarily spurned by the Stoics (they are spurned by some other philosophers of Antiquity). Rather Stoicism emphasizes states such as justice, honesty, moderation, simplicity, self-discipline, resolve, fortitude, and courage (states which Christianity also encourages).
The Stoics make a radical claim that the eudaimon life is the morally virtuous life. Moral virtue is good, and moral vice is bad, and everything else, such as health, honour and riches, are merely “neutral”. The Stoics therefore are committed to saying that external goods such as wealth and physical beauty are not really good at all. Moral virtue is both necessary and sufficient for eudaimonia. In this, they are akin to Cynic philosophers such as Antisthenes and Diogenes in denying the importance to eudaimonia of external goods and circumstances, such as were recognized by Aristotle, who thought that severe misfortune (such as the death of one’s family and friends) could rob even the most virtuous person of eudaimonia. This Stoic doctrine re-emerges later in the history of ethical philosophy in the writings of Immanuel Kant, who argues that the possession of a “good will” is the only unconditional good. One difference is that whereas the Stoics regard external goods as neutral, as neither good nor bad, Kant’s position seems to be that external goods are good, but only so far as they are a condition to achieving happiness.
“Modern Moral Philosophy”
Interest in the concept of eudaimonia and ancient ethical theory more generally had a revival in the 20th century. G.E.M. Anscombe in her article “Modern Moral Philosophy” (1958) argued that duty-based conceptions of morality are conceptually incoherent for they are based on the idea of a “law without a lawgiver.” She claims a system of morality conceived along the lines of the Ten Commandments depends on someone having made these rules. Anscombe recommends a return to the eudaimonistic ethical theories of the ancients, particularly Aristotle, which ground morality in the interests and well-being of human moral agents, and can do so without appealing to any such lawgiver.
Julia Driver in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains:
Anscombe’s article Modern Moral Philosophy stimulated the development of virtue ethics as an alternative to Utilitarianism, Kantian Ethics, and Social Contract theories. Her primary charge in the article is that, as secular approaches to moral theory, they are without foundation. They use concepts such as “morally ought”, “morally obligated”, “morally right”, and so forth that are legalistic and require a legislator as the source of moral authority. In the past God occupied that role, but systems that dispense with God as part of the theory are lacking the proper foundation for meaningful employment of those concepts.
Models of eudaimonia in psychology and positive psychology emerged from early work on self-actualization and the means of its accomplishment by researchers such as Erik Erikson, Gordon Allport, and Abraham Maslow.
Theories include Diener’s tripartite model of subjective well-being, Ryff’s Six-factor Model of Psychological Well-being, Keyes work on flourishing, and Seligman’s contributions to positive psychology and his theories on authentic happiness and P.E.R.M.A. Related concepts are happiness, flourishing, quality of life, contentment, and meaningful life.
The Japanese concept of Ikigai has been described as eudaimonic well-being, as it “entails actions of devoting oneself to pursuits one enjoys and is associated with feelings of accomplishment and fulfillment.”
Positive Psychology on Eudaimonia
The “Questionnaire for Eudaimonic Well-Being” developed in Positive Psychology lists six dimensions of eudaimonia:
Perceived development of one’s best potentials;
A sense of purpose and meaning in life;
Investment of significant effort in pursuit of excellence;
The Six-factor Model of Psychological Well-being is a theory developed by Carol Ryff which determines six factors which contribute to an individual’s psychological well-being, contentment, and happiness.
Psychological well-being consists of positive relationships with others, personal mastery, autonomy, a feeling of purpose and meaning in life, and personal growth and development. Psychological well-being is attained by achieving a state of balance affected by both challenging and rewarding life events.
The Ryff Scale of Measurement is a psychometric inventory consisting of two forms (either 54 or 84 items) in which respondents rate statements on a scale of 1 to 6, where 1 indicates strong disagreement and 6 indicates strong agreement. Ryff’s model is not based on merely feeling happy, but is based on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, “where the goal of life isn’t feeling good, but is instead about living virtuously”.
The Ryff Scale is based on six factors: autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relations with others, purpose in life, and self-acceptance. Higher total scores indicate higher psychological well-being. Following are explanations of each criterion, and an example statement from the Ryff Inventory to measure each criterion.
High scores indicate that the respondent is independent and regulates their behaviour independent of social pressures.
An example statement for this criterion is “I have confidence in my opinions, even if they are contrary to the general consensus”.
High scores indicate that the respondent makes effective use of opportunities and has a sense of mastery in managing environmental factors and activities, including managing everyday affairs and creating situations to benefit personal needs.
An example statement for this criterion is “In general, I feel I am in charge of the situation in which I live”.
High scores indicate that the respondent continues to develop, is welcoming to new experiences, and recognises improvement in behaviour and self over time.
An example statement for this criterion is “I think it is important to have new experiences that challenge how you think about yourself and the world”.
Positive Relations with Others:
High scores reflect the respondent’s engagement in meaningful relationships with others that include reciprocal empathy, intimacy, and affection.
An example statement for this criterion is “People would describe me as a giving person, willing to share my time with others”.
Purpose in Life:
High scores reflect the respondent’s strong goal orientation and conviction that life holds meaning.
An example statement for this criterion is “Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them”.
High scores reflect the respondent’s positive attitude about his or her self.
An example statement for this criterion is “I like most aspects of my personality”
Applications and Research Findings
Positive Contributing Factors
Positive psychological well-being may emerge from numerous sources. A happy marriage is contributive, for example, as is a satisfying job or a meaningful relationship with another person. When marriages include forgiveness, optimistic expectations, positive thoughts about one’s spouse, and kindness, a marriage significantly improves psychological well-being. A propensity to unrealistic optimism and over-exaggerated self-evaluations can be useful. These positive illusions are especially important when an individual receives threatening negative feedback, as the illusions allow for adaptation in these circumstances to protect psychological well-being and self-confidence (Taylor & Brown, 1988). Optimism also can help an individual cope with stresses to their well-being.
Negative Contributing Factors
Psychological well-being can also be affected negatively, as is the case with a degrading and unrewarding work environment, unfulfilling obligations and unsatisfying relationships. Social interaction has a strong effect on well-being as negative social outcomes are more strongly related to well-being than are positive social outcomes. Childhood traumatic experiences diminish psychological well-being throughout adult life, and can damage psychological resilience in children, adolescents, and adults. Perceived stigma also diminished psychological well-being, particularly stigma in relation to obesity and other physical ailments or disabilities.
Extrinsic and Intrinsic Psychological Needs
A study conducted in the early 1990s exploring the relationship between well-being and those aspects of positive functioning that were put forth in Ryff’s model indicates that persons who aspired more for financial success relative to affiliation with others or their community scored lower on various measures of well-being.
Individuals that strive for a life defined by affiliation, intimacy, and contributing to one’s community can be described as aspiring to fulfil their intrinsic psychological needs. In contrast, those individuals who aspire for wealth and material, social recognition, fame, image, or attractiveness can be described as aiming to fulfil their extrinsic psychological needs. The strength of an individual’s intrinsic (relative to extrinsic) aspirations as indicated by rankings of importance correlates with an array of psychological outcomes. Positive correlations have been found with indications of psychological well-being: positive affect, vitality, and self-actualisation. Negative correlations have been found with indicators of psychological ill-being: negative affect, depression, and anxiety.
Relations with Others
A more recent study confirming Ryff’s notion of maintaining positive relations with others as a way of leading a meaningful life involved comparing levels of self-reported life satisfaction and subjective well-being (positive/negative affect). Results suggested that individuals whose actions had underlying eudaimonic tendencies as indicated by their self-reports (e.g. “I seek out situations that challenge my skills and abilities”) were found to possess higher subjective well-being and life satisfaction scores compared to participants who did not. Individuals were grouped according to their chosen paths/strategies to happiness as identified by their answers on an Orientation to Happiness Questionnaire. The questionnaire describes and differentiates individuals on the basis of three orientations to happiness which can be pursued, though some individuals do not pursue any. The “pleasure” orientation describes a path to happiness that is associated with adopting hedonistic life goals to satisfy only one’s extrinsic needs. Engagement and meaning orientations describe a pursuit of happiness that integrates two positive psychology constructs “flow/engagement” and “eudaimonia/meaning”. Both of the latter orientations are also associated with aspiring to meet intrinsic needs for affiliation and community and were amalgamated by Anić and Tončić into a single “eudaimonic” path to happiness that elicited high scores on all measures of well-being and life satisfaction. Importantly, she also produced scales for assessing mental health. This factor structure has been debated, but has generated much research in wellbeing, health, and successful ageing.
Individual differences in both overall Eudaimonia, identified loosely with self-control and in the facets of eudaimonia are heritable. Evidence from one study supports 5 independent genetic mechanisms underlying the Ryff facets of this trait, leading to a genetic construct of eudaimonia in terms of general self-control, and four subsidiary biological mechanisms enabling the psychological capabilities of purpose, agency, growth, and positive social relations.
According to Seligman, positive interventions to attain positive human experience should not be at the expense of disregarding human suffering, weakness, and disorder. A therapy based on Ryff’s six elements was developed by Fava and others in this regards.
The International Day of Happiness is celebrated throughout the world on the 20th of March. It was established by the United Nations General Assembly on 28 June 2012.
Assembly Resolution A/RES/66/281 states in pertinent part:
The General Assembly,[…] Conscious that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal,[…] Recognizing also the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples, Decides to proclaim 20 March the International Day of Happiness, Invites all Member States, organizations of the United Nations system and other international and regional organizations, as well as civil society, including non-governmental organizations and individuals, to observe the International Day of Happiness in an appropriate manner, including through education and public awareness-raising activities[…] (United Nations General Assembly, Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 28 June 2012).
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