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Happiness

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Xiren Yeliewu (03/01/2020, within the course "A Journey through Philosophy", facilitated by J.M. Díaz at HM)

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Abstract: Learning what human prosperity means and how to best achieve it seems to be a top priority of scientific and philosophical research. In recent decades, a considerable amount of research and public attention has focused on the topic of happiness and well-being, and there are strong voices calling for the policy to be entirely dedicated to promoting happiness or well-being. Pursuing happiness and well-being rationally requires an understanding of happiness, especially the answers to the following questions. (i) What is happiness? (ii) What is well-being? (iii) What is the relationship between happiness and well-being? This article aims to answer these three questions and deliver reliable information to the readers. 

1. Introduction

Happiness and well-being as a part of our life, we all have different meanings for happiness and well-being, such as pleasure, being engaged, and life satisfaction. In medicine, happiness calls subjective well-being with many domains like work, family, friends spiritual contentment control. From my view, happiness comes with some useful lessons. First, what predicts it?  The research points to a lot of factors, however, there are three big picture players, genes, life circumstances, and life choices. Dr.Sonja Lyubomirsky a university of California professor tried to answer this question. Dr.Sonja Lyubomirsky found out that about 50% of happiness is predicted by genes, 40% by life choices and only 10% by life circumstances (Ed Batista. 2009.)

Second lesson is about our life choices, the good news is they are mostly in our control and overlapping. Expressing gratitude, being more forgiving, meditation and mindfulness exercise, investing in quality relationships, kindness altruism and doing things for others, compassion, having good flow, where we have a kind of spontaneous joy from being fully observed in a task, minimizing thinking traps that make us feel bad about ourselves, all of these can work with our factory settings to increase happiness levels. 

Regarding whether happiness and well-being are one thing, two things, or three things, or more, we have not even reached a consensus. Some philosophers believe that concept of happiness is only a descriptive psychological concept, while others insist on that the concept of happiness actually equals to well-being. Indeed, the expression “happiness and well-being” is largely due to people uncertainty about the meaning of these two terms, which makes it a convenient way to hedge bets. The concept of happiness in turn has caused a lot of controversies. Some philosophers suggest that two or more concepts of happiness need to be distinguished, or related to this. Depending on the context, the concept takes different forms.

Roughly, hedonism recognizes well-being through pleasure rather than pain (Plato.stanford.edu. 2017.). Many well-being researches associate happiness with subjective well-being which covers a certain combination of these psychological states, such as life satisfaction and emotional well-being. Subjective well-being is best understood as a collective term for various mental states, which is called happiness in theories. The emotional state theory believes that happiness is a positive emotional state, which is roughly the opposite of anxiety and depression. Life satisfaction theory recognizes happiness through a judgement rather than a feeling: being satisfied with the whole life (Plato.stanford.edu. 2020.).  For example, judge your life well by your standards. 

I believe that an experience-based understanding of the general concepts of happiness and well-being can help overcome the fog, thus, this paper discusses

results of some new research conducted for this purpose. Especially, I studied layman’s judgement about several examples of using various health-related terms. People usually think that happiness depends not only on the internal psychological state, but also on the external conditions of people’s lives, such as, whether people have healthy social relationships or meaningful jobs. Therefore, my researches focus on identifying the concepts of the “Happiness” and the “Well-being”. From these studies, a fairly clear picture emerges: 

(1) Happiness: you are just describing a state of mind, you are saying that the mental state represented by “happiness” is joy.

(2)  Well-being: you are making value judgements, you are saying that happiness is ultimately good for us.

2.     Philosophical background

As already mentioned briefly, not only is there no philosophical consensus on the precise nature of happiness and well-being, but there are also great differences in whether this subject area involves one, two or three concepts or categories. The idea of well-being refers to a value, usually called prudential value, which can be expressed in a variety of more or less interchangeable terms, including welfare, prosperity, and a significant meaning the term happiness. 

In a common way of dividing well-being theories, there are three main methods for the essence of well-being, hedonism, desire satisfaction theory, and objective list theory (Plato.stanford.edu. 2017.).  The term “hedonism” is derived from the Greek word ἡδονή (hēdonē) for pleasure (Iep.utm.edu. n. d.).  It refers to several related theories about what is good for us, how we should behave and what motivate us to behave in the way that we do. Moreover, according to hedonism, well-being depends entirely on a person’s balance between pleasant and unpleasant experiences. According to the theory of desire satisfaction, when a person’s desires are satisfied, personal well-being will increase (Taylor & Francis. 2010.). Desire theory determines well-being by obtaining what you want or satisfying your idealized ideal needs (for example, what you want with complete information). The objective list theory believes that a variety of basic target products directly benefit people. This can include items such as, romantic relationships, meaningful knowledge, autonomy, achievement, and pleasure (Rice, C., 2013.). Nature fulfilment views, also called “Eudaemonism” or “Perfectionist” are also objective, but it is not just a list of goods. Instead, they see happiness as the basis for realizing ideals based on personal makeup, for example, realizing their potential through objectively valuable activities.

Many philosophers in science and the happiest researches are use the word “happiness” in very different ways, which is a purely psychological term similar to “joy”, “satisfaction”, “anxiety” or “depression”. In this sense, the belonging of happiness does not mean that value judgements are required. The only describe the person’s mental state. Theories of happiness in this sense include life satisfaction theories, hedonism, and emotional state theories. According to the popular “Whole Life Satisfaction” theory, an agent will feel happy when he judges that his life is in line with his ideal life plan. Fred Feldman recently argued that this view cannot accommodate the happiness of spontaneous or dedicated brokers, who do not consider their own lives (Suikkanen, J., 2011.).  The relationship between hedonism and happiness has been studied from two levels: the relationship between the country and the individual. At the nation level, average happiness is related to the moral acceptance of happiness and active leisure. At the personal level, it is similar to hedonistic attitudes and is also related to hedonistic behaviours. Finally, the emotional state theory treats happiness as a person’s emotional state, for instance, a person usually cheerful, energetic and relaxed, rather than a person anxiety and depressed. 

3.  What is Happiness?

3.1 A look at the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of happiness.

Frist, let’s look at the definition of happiness so that we are all on the same page. The definition of happiness in the Oxford English Dictionary is simple: “a state of being happy”. Not exactly what we want, is it? Maybe we need to study more deeply. The Oxford English Dictionary has a slightly more useful definition of “happy”:feeling or showing pleasure or contentment. Therefore, happiness is the state of feeling or showing pleasure or satisfaction. From this definition, we can gather some key points about happiness:

3.1.1     Happiness is a state, not a trait. In other words, this is not a permanent, or permanent characteristic or personality trait, but a more transient, changeable state.

3.1.2     Happiness is equated with feeling pleasure or satisfaction, which means that happiness should not be confused with joy, ecstasy, happiness, or other stronger feelings.

3.1.3     Happiness can be felt or expressed, which means that happiness is not necessarily an internal and external experience, but can exist at the same time.

3.2 Aristotle’s definition of happiness

“Happiness depends on ourselves” (Pursuit-of-happiness.org. 2004.). Aristotle regards happiness as the central goal and goal of human life more than anyone else. As a result, he devoted more space to the topic of happiness than any thinker before the modern era. One of Aristotle’s most influential works is the Nicomachean Ethics. He put forward the theory of happiness and has a history of more than 2,300 years. The key question that Aristotle tried to answer in these lectures is “what is the ultimate purpose of human existence?” “What is the purpose or goal of all activities that we should guide?”  We can see that people seeking pleasure, wealth, and good reputation in everywhere. However, although each of them has its own value, none of them can replace primary interests that human should pursue. In order to achieve the ultimate goal, the behaviour must be self-sufficient and final, “that which is always desirable in itself and never for the sake of something else” (Nicomachean Ethics, 1097a30-34), and it must be reachable by humans. Aristotle claimed that almost everyone agree that happiness is the end of meeting all these requirements. It is easy to see that we desire money, happiness, and honour simply because we believe that these commodities will make us happy.

4.    What is Well-being?

Well-being is the experience of the health, happiness and prosperity. It includes good mental health, high life satisfaction, a sense of meaning or purpose, and the ability to cope with stress. Generally speaking, well-being is just feeling well. Well-being is something that almost everyone purposes because it contains many positive things, such as, feeling happy, healthy, socially connected and clear goals.

On account of well-being is a broad experience, I would like to break it down into five major types.

4.1  Emotional well-being: be able to practice stress management techniques, maintain flexibility and generate emotions that bring good feelings.

4.2  Physical well-being: ability to improve body function through healthy eating and good exercise habits.

4.3  Social well-being: the ability to communicate, build meaningful relationships with others, and maintain a support network can help you to overcome feelings of loneliness. 

4.4  Workplace well-being: be able to pursue one’s own interests, values and goals in order to gain meaning, happiness and fulfilment professionally. 

4.5  Societal well-being: the ability to actively participate in a thriving community, cultural and environment.

Well-being comes from our thoughts, actions, and experiences, most of which are under our control. For example, when we think positively, we tend to have greater emotional well-being. When we pursue meaningful relationships, we tend to have better social well-being. Moreover, when we lose our job or just hate it, our workplace well-being tends to decrease. 

5.    What is the relationship between Happiness and Well-being?

Previously, I discussed about the concept of the happiness as well as the concept of well-being. Furthermore, the relationship between happiness and hedonism, life satisfaction theory and emotional state theory. The way well-being in hedonism, desire satisfaction theory, objective list theory. Before we fall into confusion of the meaning, we need consider the difference between happiness and well-being. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, there are differences in depth between them. The “scarcity” of happiness also seems to be a factor. There are kind of less reports are always happy, thus, when it happens we tend to cherish its memory. For instance, it was a day spent on the beach as a child with brothers and sisters, and our parents. At this scene, there are maybe many elements happiness, family relationships, beautiful surroundings, sunshine, and ice cream, we can make our own way of emotional states. In contrast, “well-being” can last longer time. It is maybe helpful to think of it is a maintenance plan, a serious of routines and conscious actions we perform that keep our health.

It is worth clarifying how hedonism becomes a theory of both happiness and well-being, not just a simple matter. The answer is that even in the hedonistic theory of well-being, well-being can be identified with pleasure, and well-being is still an evaluation concept. Hedonistic in well-being not only describing the psychological states, but also making value of judgements, the only thing that benefits people at the end is well-being. In the psychological sense of “happiness” hedonists only describe a certain psychological state as equivalent to enjoyment, without any value judgement at all. Hedonists about happiness may reject hedonism in well-being. For example, the protagonist of the Truman Show is very happy, but nonetheless he has a terrible life and leads an enviable life, his life is simply false, and his relatives are just pretending actors (This case is variation of Nozick’s famous machine experience example (Nozick,1974)). In contrast, a hedonist about well-being would assert that Truman is not bad at deception, as long as it did not make his experience worse. Of course, whether this statement is correct is a question of value: are external conditions fundamentally important to our well-being, constitute benefits or be harmful to us? Most well-being theories insist that hedonism is the main exception.

6.    Conclusion

Empirical research on happiness tells us that greater happiness is possible. Most people can be happier than themselves, and the average happiness of each country will increase. In most organizations happiness may be the same. Researchers also tells us that achieving greater happiness depends largely on ourselves, and happiness depends on the conditions we can improve and the abilities we can develop. This applies to individuals and institutions.

Some researchers believe that terms are synonyms, while other researchers point out that there are major based on which dimensions are independent and contribute to most well-being. This is constantly involving science that comes from multi disciplines. Traditionally, health related quality of life is related to the patient’s prognosis and usually focuses on functional deficits (e.g. pain, negative effects). Instead, well-being functional assets, including positive emotions and psychological resources (e.g. positive affect, autonomy, mastery).

In summary, happiness and well-being are important for us both mentally and physically. They benefit everyone, because when we become more satisfied people, we are more valuable to those around us. Enhancing self-understanding and self-compassion can expand our understanding and compassion for others.  Feeling good about ourselves can make us beneficial to people in our lives.

References

  • Ed Batista. 2009. Sonja Lyubomirsky And The How Of Happiness. <https://www.edbatista.com/2009/02/happiness.html>
  • Plato.stanford.edu. 2017. Well-Being (Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy). <https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/well-being/#Hed> 
  • Plato.stanford.edu. 2020. Happiness (Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy). <https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/happiness/>
  • Iep.utm.edu. n. d.  Hedonism | Internet Encyclopedia Of Philosophy<https://iep.utm.edu/hedonism/> 
  • Taylor & Francis. 2010. Subjective Well-Being And Desire Satisfaction<https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/05568641003669409>
  • Rice, C., 2013. Defending The Objective List Theory Of Well-Being.
  • PositivePsychology.com. 2020. Life Satisfaction Theory And 4 Contributing Factors (Incl. SWLS Scale).  <https://positivepsychology.com/life-satisfaction/>
  • Suikkanen, J., 2011. An Improved Whole Life Satisfaction Theory Of Happiness <https://philpapers.org/rec/SUIAIW> 
  • Pursuit-of-happiness.org. 2004. Aristotle And His Definition Of Happiness - Overview. <https://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/aristotle/>
  • Psychology Today. 2019. What Is Well-Being? Definition, Types, And Well-Being Skills. <https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/click-here-happiness/201901/what-is-well-being-definition-types-and-well-being-skills>
  • Danaher, J., 2017. Understanding The Experience Machine Argument. <https://philosophicaldisquisitions.blogspot.com/2017/01/understanding-experience-machine.html>
  • Nozick, R. (1974). Anarchy, State, and Utopia. New York: Basic Books. 

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