important to first understand that the term "happiness" refers to the
emotion, mood, and state of happiness, however happiness
researchers generally study the more enduring "state."
Let's begin with our scientific understanding of happiness. Psychologist Ed Diener, the leading authority on happiness, began
his 1984 review by stating that "Throughout history philosophers
considered happiness to be the highest good and ultimate
motivation for human action."
Social scientists began studying happiness comprehensively in the
1960's. Lets now explore what their research revealed. Norman Bradburn in 1969 described it as having more positive emotions and
moods than negative emotions and moods. Angus Campbell in 1976
found that happiness included a third component; satisfaction with
one's basic circumstances.
psychologist Jonathan Freedman wrote that "people generally agree
about what they mean by happiness. It is a positive, enduring
state that consists of positive feelings...and includes both peace
of mind and active pleasures or joy." He went on to write that
"People may pursue happiness differently...But by and large it is
the same happiness for everyone." In 1984 the leading authority
on "international" happiness," Ruut Veenhoven, described
happiness as "the degree to which an individual judges the overall
quality of his life-as-a whole favorably." In 1990, English
psychologist Michael Eysenck concurred with Bradburn and Campbell,
and described happiness by the equation Happiness = Satisfaction +
Hedonic level. Finally, in 1999, Diener and colleagues again
reviewed the literature and divided the "satisfaction" component
into two distinct components; "Life (global) Satisfactions" and
"Domain (work, family, self, etc.) Satisfactions."
How do those
scientific definitions compare with our common usage of the word
happiness? Let's refer to The Oxford Universal Dictionary
which gives several definitions for "happy." Definitions
describe it as fortune or luck. #4 suggests that it is a feeling
derived from satisfaction with one's circumstances. Webster
offers the following clarifying distinctions; "Happy generally
suggests a feeling of great pleasure, contentment, etc., Glad
implies more strongly an exultant feeling of joy,. Cheerful
implies a steady display of bright spirits, optimism, etc., Joyful
and joyous imply great elation and rejoicing." Finally, Webster
defines Bliss as "great joy or happiness."
So, how do
researchers know how happy we are? Well, they might ask us
directly with a scaled (e.g. 3, 5, 7, 10 levels) question like
"Taking all things together, how would you say things are these
days, would you say you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too
happy?" Or they might ask us to answer a battery of questions
designed to collectively reveal our happiness level. Or they
might ask our friends and family how happy they think we are.
Interestingly these three methods generally yield very similar
results, suggesting the validity of each instrument.
is no mystery.
Most people are quite clear about what happiness is, and
can easily describe how happy or not they are. Most people also
consider happiness their most important goal in life. Happiness