How can there be most happiness?
Happiness, usually interpreted as subjective well being / emotional well being or alternatively life satisfaction/ life evaluation, is an elaborate subject with many aspects, a long history and is the subject of much research and publications (see below). It was famously enshrined in the US constitution, and striving for happiness has become a general pursuit. The ancient Greek sought “eudaimonia”, happiness (probably more in the sense of life satisfaction than momentary feeling), as the highest desirable good and the object of virtue. Jeremy Bentham later turned utility, or “Greatest Happiness", into the basis or definition of virtue and an organizing principle for society.
A lot of the researchers are organized in the International Society for Quality-of-Life Studies. Advances in neuroscience, the empirical investigation of subjective well-being and quality-of-life studies have brought an evidence based understanding on what makes us happy. Once we have escaped from abject poverty, more wealth does not make us feel happier, yet the relative status it provides adds to our satisfaction. The long standing debate about the influence of wealth on happiness thus depends on the definition: wealth relative to the peer group (i.e., status) affects life evaluation/satisfaction, but has little effect on emotional well being. The evolutionary advantages endowed by ambition and status ensure we always want twice as much as we have. This keeps our economy turning and suggests that we are destined to consume whatever there is without ever getting any happier. No future for happiness, then? Some suggest that happiness can not only be measured but also taught, and that societies and economies, even a future, can be built on the idea that all want to be as happy as possible.
Aggregate happiness can probably rise in proportion to the number of people and the time they live (probably not linearly), while the relative status in the society would scale much less so. Status, however, would be expected to be selected for in competitive reproduction while happiness in excess might be selected against, as it could reduce motivation to secure conditions on life, which makes us likely to have an inherent motivation to seek status and less easily to feel happy.
Existence of individuals who can experience is a necessary precondition for happiness.
Creating conditions for as many individuals as possible to exist on earth therefore goes a long way towards maximizing happiness. That does not yet require to make assumptions on how each individual achieves happiness. It would seem to be a motive shared across different cultures and beliefs.
Happiness has value. My own and others' happiness. Let us value happiness and try to create the most of it. The aggregate amount of happiness increases as long as there are self-aware beings alive. Let us help to find ways for civilizations to continue. The better these civilizations are at helping the individuals be happy and the less distress they cause, the better of course. To determine that, however, requires assumptions on how such civilizations function or how they should be organized, which even in the present is a rather contested subject with many aspects. No matter how civilizations function, to contribute to creating the most happiness, they must allow life to continue. Therefore the focus of milliongenerations.org is on the ability of continuation, by looking what follows from the assumption that there is at least one civilization on planet earth in a billion years that evolved from currently existing human civilization(s).
References / Researchers / Authors
- Ed Diener (Univ. of Illinois): Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth (2008) and International Differences in Well-Being (2010)
- Richard A. Easterlin (University of Southern California) asserted in the mid-1990s that beyond a certain threshhold our happiness is depends on relative wealth (i.e., status), which growth can not raise for everyone (Easterlin paradox) The additional benefit of extra absolute wealth certainly reduces as wealth increases. Easterlin publishes about The Economics of Happiness.
- Robert Emmons (UC Davis)
- Michael Frisch (Baylor Univ): Meaningful Life Project
- Daniel Gilbert (Harvard): Stumbling on Happiness
- Daniel Kahneman (Princeton)
- Randy Larsen (Washington Univ. St. Louis)
- Richard Layard (London School of Economics): published on happiness as a guiding principle / "happiness economics" and contributed to “The Greatest Happiness Principle: Its time has come”, Well-being: How to lead the good life and what government should do to help, (eds) S Griffiths and R Reeves, Social Market Foundation, July 2009
- François Lelord (Univ. Paris Descartes): Le voyage d'Hector ou la recherche du bonheur
- Sonja Lyubomirsky (University of California, Riverside)
- Nic Marks founded the Centre for Well-being of nef (the new economics foundation) and sums up his perspective and advocates the Happy Planet Index in a talk at TED in 2010.
- Christopher Peterson (University of Michigan)
- Ulrich Schimmack (Univ. Toronto)
- Martin Seligman (U Penn): Positive Psychology
- Ruut Veenhoven (Erasmus Univ. Rotterdam): World Database of Happiness
Institutions & Events
- World Database of Happiness - database of research on happiness / life satisfaction (click on "Philosophy" for an introduction: "Happiness is a highly valued matter. Most people agree...")
- International Society for Quality-of-Life Studies
- Lewis Goldberg - International Personality Item Pool A website on personality assessment, in particular on measuring the Big 5
- Robert Biswas-Diener - Intentional Happiness A website on positive psychology coaching
- Thoughts on Happiness a conference on positive psychology in 2008
- Journal of Happiness Studies a peer reviewed journal providing "an Interdisciplinary Forum on Subjective Well-Being" - "Coverage includes both cognitive evaluations of life such as life-satisfaction, and affective enjoyment of life, such as mood level". Table of Contents online: http://www.springerlink.com/content/1389-4978
- milliongenerations.org helped the Club of Amsterdam create the concept of an event on "The future of Happiness" on 25 November 2010
- Bengi measures, shares and increases gross national happiness (bruto nationaal geluk) in the Netherlands (site in Dutch)