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Articles    H3'ed 8/24/10

What is Happiness?

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Because feelings and judgements are two levels of the same thing you would expect there to be some overlap. This is why you get people saying 'happiness is a decision' or a 'happiness is a state of mind'. By deliberately altering judgements, the part of feelings that overlaps with it will start to change too. You see this in people who take cognitive-behavioural therapy; they learn judge situations in a different way, and it's about as effective as prozac at making people happier.

Likewise, it's natural that if you do a lot of things that result in the feelings of happiness, then over time this will affect your judgements of it.

Scientists have focused their work mostly on the judgement definition. They prefer to study things that are stable over time: if feelings were used, the research would be all over the place. Also, judgements are a higher-level definition; judgements can tell you about feelings, but feelings can't tell you about judgements.

Psychologists have termed judgements 'Subjective Well Being', or 'life-satisfaction.' They've also come up with other definitions and explanations for happiness, but this subjective well being is the one with the most research behind it. So I'll focus on that one for now, but I'll continue to just call it happiness for consistency.

The real advantage defining happiness in this way is that it gets around the subjectivity problem. When you judge your life, you take into account the things that make you happy, and when I judge my life, I take the things that make me happy into account (we both take 80s power ballads into account, of course). If we are able to use our own judging criteria, we could compare our happiness, if there was some way to measure it. Well there is, and in the next article in this series on happiness I'll describe how it has been possible to quantify happiness.

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Warren Davies is a positive psychologist. His website is
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