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Is there a Science of Happiness?

January 24, 2010

Jeff Mason in The Philosopher’s Magazine:

The topic of human happiness or felicity has a long history. From Plato and Aristotle to the cynics, stoics, epicureans and skeptics, there have been no end of philosophical treatises defining happiness and describing different ways of attaining it. Faith, too, speaks of human happiness within the context of a religious tradition. In theistic religions, human happiness is achieved through living a ‘godly’ life here on earth in the hopes of eternal felicity after death. The topic is huge and the angles are many, but, until now, there has been no concerted effort to organize our thoughts about happiness into an empirical science.

Philosophers and theologians can only speculate, the new idea is to bring philosophy into an interdisciplinary arrangement containing both fairly hard and rather softer social scientific theories. Richard Layard, in his book “The New Science of Happiness” brings philosophy, psychology, economics and neurophysiology to bear on the question of human happiness, what it is, and what we can do collectively and individually to promote happiness in the world.

On Layard’s reasonable view, happiness involves both external conditions and the internal attitudes and mental states of individuals. Again, plausibly, we are not to impose on everyone an idea of happiness generated by high-minded philosophers or divine-minded theologians. We are to start with what ordinary people think. What makes this a “science” of happiness is the use of empirical data in calculating what is or is not conducive to happiness or an ingredient in the happy life. This empirical approach uses the results of ‘happiness’ questionnaires. One involves coming up with a ‘well-being’ index, another with a ‘life-satisfaction’ index. People taking the questionnaires subjectively rank their well-being or life-satisfaction.

From these exercises we learn both how happy a person feels at the given time, and what the person thinks are the main ingredients of a happy life. [More]

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One Comment leave one →
  1. January 24, 2010 3:23 PM

    nice article…interesting question – happiness

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