Towards a Multi-Disciplinary Approach
Edited by Amitava Krishna Dutt and Benjamin Radcliff
Chapter 3: How Do We Assess How Happy We Are? Tenets, Implications and Tenability of Three Theories
Ruut Veenhoven1 THE PROBLEM 3.1 Happiness is highly valued in present day society. Not only do people aim at happiness in their own life but there is also growing support for the idea that we care for the happiness of other people and that governments should aim at creating greater happiness for a greater number of citizens (Bentham, 1789). This classic philosophy is not only more accepted these days, but also more practicable, now that scientific research provides more view on the conditions for happiness (Veenhoven, 2004). In that context, happiness is commonly understood as how much one likes the life one lives, or more formally, the degree to which one evaluates one’s life as a whole positively. A central element in this definition is subjective ‘evaluation’ or ‘liking’ of life, also referred to as ‘satisfaction’ with life. These words refer to a mental state but leave some ambiguity about the precise nature of that state. That question is differently answered in three theories linked to different theories about how we evaluate life. Set-point theory sees the evaluation as a stable attitude towards life and focuses more on the mental processes that maintain this attitude than on the processes that have brought it about. Comparison theory sees evaluation rather as a continuous judgment process involving the comparison of perceptions of life-as-it-is with notions of how-life-should-be. Affect theory sees happiness also as a continuous mental process, but now as an appraisal of how well one feels usually. These different descriptive theories...
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