In psychology, happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being
which can be defined by, among others, positive or pleasant emotions
ranging from contentment to intense joy. Happy mental states may
reflect judgements by a person about their overall well-being.
Since the 1960s, happiness research has been conducted in a wide
variety of scientific disciplines, including gerontology, social
psychology, clinical and medical research and happiness economics.
In philosophy, happiness is translated from the Greek concept of
eudaimonia, and refers to the good life, or flourishing, as opposed to
3.1 Eastern religions
3.2 Abrahamic religions
3.2.2 Roman Catholicism
4.1.1 Maslow's hierarchy of needs
4.1.2 Self-determination theory
4.1.3 Positive psychology
4.2 Measurement of happiness
5 Hedonic adaptation
6 Links to physical characteristics and health
7 Economic and political views
8 Contributing factors and research outcomes
9 See also
11 Further reading
12 External links
Happiness is a fuzzy concept. Some related concepts include
well-being, quality of life, flourishing, and contentment. 
In philosophy and (western) religion, happiness may be defined in
terms of living a good life, or flourishing, rather than simply as an
Happiness in this sense was used to translate the Greek
eudaimonia, and is still used in virtue ethics. There has been a
transition over time from emphasis on the happiness of virtue to the
virtue of happiness.
In psychology, happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being
which can be defined by, among others, positive or pleasant emotions
ranging from contentment to intense joy. Since the turn of the
millennium, psychologists have increasingly become interested in
developing an approach to human flourishing. This is seen prominently
in the work of Martin Seligman,
Ed Diener and Ruut Veenhoven, and in
the international developmental and medical research of Paul
A smiling 95-year-old man from Pichilemu, Chile.
Philosophy of happiness
In the Nicomachean Ethics, written in 350 BCE,
Aristotle stated that
happiness (also being well and doing well) is the only thing that
humans desire for its own sake, unlike riches, honour, health or
friendship. He observed that men sought riches, or honour, or health
not only for their own sake but also in order to be happy. Note that
eudaimonia, the term we translate as "happiness", is for
activity rather than an emotion or a state. Thus understood, the
happy life is the good life, that is, a life in which a person
fulfills human nature in an excellent way. Specifically, Aristotle
argues that the good life is the life of excellent rational activity.
He arrives at this claim with the Function Argument. Basically, if
it's right, every living thing has a function, that which it uniquely
does. For humans,
Aristotle contends, our function is to reason, since
it is that alone that we uniquely do. And performing one's function
well, or excellently, is good. Thus, according to Aristotle, the life
of excellent rational activity is the happy life.
Aristotle does not
leave it at that, however. He argues that there is a second best life
for those incapable of excellent rational activity. This second best
life is the life of moral virtue.
Many ethicists make arguments for how humans should behave, either
individually or collectively, based on the resulting happiness of such
behavior. Utilitarians, such as
John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham,
advocated the greatest happiness principle as a guide for ethical
Friedrich Nietzsche savagely critiqued the English Utilitarians' focus
on attaining the greatest happiness, stating that "Man does not strive
for happiness, only the Englishman does." Nietzsche meant that making
happiness one's ultimate goal and the aim of one's existence, in his
words "makes one contemptible." Nietzsche instead yearned for a
culture that would set higher, more difficult goals than "mere
happiness." He introduced the quasi-dystopic figure of the "last man"
as a kind of thought experiment against the utilitarians and
happiness-seekers. these small, "last men" who seek after only their
own pleasure and health, avoiding all danger, exertion, difficulty,
challenge, struggle are meant to seem contemptible to Nietzsche's
reader. Nietzsche instead wants us to consider the value of what is
difficult, what can only be earned through struggle, difficulty, pain
and thus to come to see the affirmative value suffering and
unhappiness truly play in creating everything of great worth in life,
including all the highest achievements of human culture, not least of
See also: Religious studies
Tibetan Buddhist monk
Happiness forms a central theme of Buddhist teachings. For
ultimate freedom from suffering, the
Noble Eightfold Path
Noble Eightfold Path leads its
practitioner to Nirvana, a state of everlasting peace. Ultimate
happiness is only achieved by overcoming craving in all forms. More
mundane forms of happiness, such as acquiring wealth and maintaining
good friendships, are also recognized as worthy goals for lay people
Buddhism also encourages the generation of loving
kindness and compassion, the desire for the happiness and welfare of
all beings.[unreliable source?]
In Advaita Vedanta, the ultimate goal of life is happiness, in the
sense that duality between Atman and
Brahman is transcended and one
realizes oneself to be the Self in all.
Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras, wrote quite exhaustively on the
psychological and ontological roots of bliss.
The Chinese Confucian thinker Mencius, who had sought to give advice
to ruthless political leaders during China's Warring States period,
was convinced that the mind played a mediating role between the
"lesser self" (the physiological self) and the "greater self" (the
moral self), and that getting the priorities right between these two
would lead to sage-hood. He argued that if one did not feel
satisfaction or pleasure in nourishing one's "vital force" with
"righteous deeds", then that force would shrivel up (Mencius, 6A:15
2A:2). More specifically, he mentions the experience of intoxicating
joy if one celebrates the practice of the great virtues, especially
Happiness in Judaism
Happiness or simcha (Hebrew: שמחה) in Judaism is considered an
important element in the service of God. The biblical verse
"worship The Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs,"
(Psalm 100:2) stresses joy in the service of God. A
popular teaching by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, a 19th-century Chassidic
Rabbi, is "
Mitzvah Gedolah Le'hiyot Besimcha Tamid," it is a great
mitzvah (commandment) to always be in a state of happiness. When a
person is happy they are much more capable of serving God and going
about their daily activities than when depressed or upset.
The primary meaning of "happiness" in various European languages
involves good fortune, chance or happening. The meaning in Greek
philosophy, however, refers primarily to ethics.
In Catholicism, the ultimate end of human existence consists in
felicity, Latin equivalent to the Greek eudaimonia, or "blessed
happiness", described by the 13th-century philosopher-theologian
Thomas Aquinas as a
Beatific Vision of God's essence in the next
St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, man's last end is
happiness: "all men agree in desiring the last end, which is
happiness." However, where utilitarians focused on reasoning about
consequences as the primary tool for reaching happiness, Aquinas
Aristotle that happiness cannot be reached solely through
reasoning about consequences of acts, but also requires a pursuit of
good causes for acts, such as habits according to virtue. In turn,
which habits and acts that normally lead to happiness is according to
Aquinas caused by laws: natural law and divine law. These laws, in
turn, were according to Aquinas caused by a first cause, or
According to Aquinas, happiness consists in an "operation of the
speculative intellect": "Consequently happiness consists principally
in such an operation, viz. in the contemplation of Divine things."
And, "the last end cannot consist in the active life, which pertains
to the practical intellect." So: "Therefore the last and perfect
happiness, which we await in the life to come, consists entirely in
contemplation. But imperfect happiness, such as can be had here,
consists first and principally in contemplation, but secondarily, in
an operation of the practical intellect directing human actions and
Human complexities, like reason and cognition, can produce well-being
or happiness, but such form is limited and transitory. In temporal
life, the contemplation of God, the infinitely Beautiful, is the
supreme delight of the will. Beatitudo, or perfect happiness, as
complete well-being, is to be attained not in this life, but the
Al-Ghazali (1058–1111), the Muslim Sufi thinker, wrote the Alchemy
of Happiness, a manual of spiritual instruction throughout the Muslim
world and widely practiced today.
A smiling Rebecca L. Felton
See also: Well-being
Happiness in its broad sense is the label for a family of pleasant
emotional states, such as joy, amusement, satisfaction, gratification,
euphoria, and triumph.
Happiness can be examined in experiential and evaluative contexts.
Experiential well-being, or "objective happiness", is happiness
measured in the moment via questions such as "How good or bad is your
experience now?". In contrast, evaluative well-being asks questions
such as "How good was your vacation?" and measures one's subjective
thoughts and feelings about happiness in the past. Experiential
well-being is less prone to errors in reconstructive memory, but the
majority of literature on happiness refers to evaluative well-being.
The two measures of happiness can be related by heuristics such as the
Some commentators focus on the difference between the hedonistic
tradition of seeking pleasant and avoiding unpleasant experiences, and
the eudaimonic tradition of living life in a full and deeply
Theories on how to achieve happiness include "encountering unexpected
positive events", "seeing a significant other", and "basking
in the acceptance and praise of others". However others believe
that happiness is not solely derived from external, momentary
Happiness is quite stable over time.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs
Maslow's hierarchy of needs
Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a pyramid depicting the levels of human
needs, psychological, and physical. When a human being ascends the
steps of the pyramid, he reaches self-actualization. Beyond the
routine of needs fulfillment, Maslow envisioned moments of
extraordinary experience, known as peak experiences, profound moments
of love, understanding, happiness, or rapture, during which a person
feels more whole, alive, self-sufficient, and yet a part of the world.
This is similar to the flow concept of Mihály
Csíkszentmihályi. Amitai Etzioni points out that
Maslow’s definition of human needs, even on the highest level, that
of self-actualization, is self-centered (i.e. his view of satisfaction
or what makes a person happy, does not include service to others or
the common good—unless it enriches the self). As implied by its
name, self-actualization is highly individualistic and reflects
Maslow’s premise that the self is “sovereign and inviolable” and
entitled to “his or her own tastes, opinions, values, etc.”
Smiling woman from Vietnam
Self-determination theory relates intrinsic motivation to three needs:
competence, autonomy, and relatedness.
During the past two decades, the field of positive psychology has
expanded drastically in terms of scientific publications, and has
produced many different views on causes of happiness, and on factors
that correlate with happiness. Numerous short-term self-help
interventions have been developed and demonstrated to improve
Seligman's acronym PERMA summarizes five factors correlated with
Pleasure (tasty food, warm baths, etc.),
Engagement (or flow, the absorption of an enjoyed yet challenging
Relationships (social ties have turned out to be extremely reliable
indicator of happiness),
Meaning (a perceived quest or belonging to something bigger), and
Accomplishments (having realized tangible goals).
Measurement of happiness
Several scales have been developed to measure happiness:
Happiness Scale (SHS) is a four-item scale, measuring
global subjective happiness. The scale requires participants to use
absolute ratings to characterize themselves as happy or unhappy
individuals, as well as it asks to what extent they identify
themselves with descriptions of happy and unhappy individuals.
The Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) is used to detect
the relation between personality traits and positive or negative
affects at this moment, today, the past few days, the past week, the
past few weeks, the past year, and generally (on average). PANAS is a
20-item questionnaire, which uses a five-point Likert scale (1 = very
slightly or not at all, 5 = extremely). A longer version with
additional affect scales is available in a manual.
The Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS) is a global cognitive
assessment of life satisfaction developed by Ed Diener. The SWLS
requires a person to use a seven-item scale to state their agreement
or disagreement (1 = strongly disagree, 4 = neither agree nor
disagree, 7 = strongly agree) with five statements about their
The UK began to measure national well being in 2012, following
Bhutan, which already measured gross national happiness.
World Happiness Report
World Happiness Report stated that in subjective well-being
measures, the primary distinction is between cognitive life
evaluations and emotional reports.
Happiness is used in both life
evaluation, as in “How happy are you with your life as a whole?”,
and in emotional reports, as in “How happy are you now?,” and
people seem able to use happiness as appropriate in these verbal
contexts. Using these measures, the
World Happiness Report
World Happiness Report identifies
the countries with the highest levels of happiness.
Etzioni argues that happiness is the wrong metric, because it does not
take into account that doing the right thing, what is moral, often
does not produce happiness in the way this term is usually used.
Hedonic adaptation finds that people's happiness rapidly returns to
previous levels after very good or very bad events. A related concept
is that of the happiness set point (proposed by Sonja
Links to physical characteristics and health
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (October
Even though no evidence of a link between happiness and physical
health has been found, the topic is being researched by Laura
Kubzansky, a professor at the Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and
Happiness at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard
University. A positive relationship has been suggested between the
volume of gray matter in the right precuneus area of the brain and the
subject's subjective happiness score.
Economic and political views
Newly commissioned officers celebrate their new positions by throwing
their midshipmen covers into the air as part of the U.S. Naval Academy
class of 2011 graduation and commissioning ceremony.
In politics, happiness as a guiding ideal is expressed in the United
States Declaration of Independence of 1776, written by Thomas
Jefferson, as the universal right to "the pursuit of happiness."
This seems to suggest a subjective interpretation but one that
nonetheless goes beyond emotions alone. In fact, this
discussion is often based on the naive assumption that the word
happiness meant the same thing in 1776 as it does today. In fact,
happiness meant "prosperity, thriving, wellbeing" in the 18th
Common market health measures such as
GNP have been used as a
measure of successful policy. On average richer nations tend to be
happier than poorer nations, but this effect seems to diminish with
wealth. This has been explained by the fact that the
dependency is not linear but logarithmic, i.e., the same percentual
increase in the
GNP produces the same increase in happiness for
wealthy countries as for poor countries. Increasingly,
academic economists and international economic organisations are
arguing for and developing multi-dimensional dashboards which combine
subjective and objective indicators to provide a more direct and
explicit assessment of human wellbeing. Work by Paul Anand and
colleagues helps to highlight the fact that there many different
contributors to adult wellbeing, that happiness judgement reflect, in
part, the presence of salient constraints, and that fairness,
autonomy, community and engagement are key aspects of happiness and
wellbeing throughout the life course.
Libertarian think tank
Cato Institute claims that economic freedom
correlates strongly with happiness preferably within the context
of a western mixed economy, with free press and a democracy. According
to certain standards, East European countries (ruled by Communist
parties) were less happy than Western ones, even less happy than other
equally poor countries.
However, much empirical research in the field of happiness economics,
such as that by Benjamin Radcliff, professor of Political Science at
the University of Notre Dame, supports the contention that (at least
in democratic countries) life satisfaction is strongly and positively
related to the social democratic model of a generous social safety
net, pro-worker labor market regulations, and strong labor unions.
Similarly, there is evidence that public policies that reduce poverty
and support a strong middle class, such as a higher minimum wage,
strongly affects average levels of well-being.
It has been argued that happiness measures could be used not as a
replacement for more traditional measures, but as a supplement.
According to professor Edward Glaeser, people constantly make choices
that decrease their happiness, because they have also more important
aims. Therefore, the government should not decrease the alternatives
available for the citizen by patronizing them but let the citizen keep
a maximal freedom of choice.
Good mental health and good relationships contribute more than income
to happiness and governments should take these into account.
Contributing factors and research outcomes
Well-being - Contributing factors and research findings
Research on positive psychology, well-being, eudaimonia and happiness,
and the theories of Diener, Ryff, Keyes, and Seligmann covers a broad
range of levels and topics, including "the biological, personal,
relational, institutional, cultural, and global dimensions of
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Happiness.
Aversion to happiness
Extraversion, introversion and happiness
Paradox of hedonism
Philosophy of happiness
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Niek Persoon "
Happiness doesn't just happen", 2006
Benjamin Radcliff The Political Economy of Human
Happiness (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 2013).
Ben Renshaw "The secrets of happiness", 2003
Fiona Robards, "What makes you happy?" Exisle Publishing, 2014,
Bertrand Russell "The conquest of happiness", orig. 1930 (many
Martin E.P. Seligman, Authentic Happiness, Free Press, 2002,
Alexandra Stoddard "Choosing happiness – keys to a joyful life",
Władysław Tatarkiewicz, Analysis of Happiness, The Hague, Martinus
Nijhoff Publishers, 1976
Elizabeth Telfer "Happiness : an examination of a hedonistic and
a eudaemonistic concept of happiness and of the relations between
Ruut Veenhoven "Bibliography of happiness – world database of
happiness : 2472 studies on subjective appreciation of life",
Ruut Veenhoven "Conditions of happiness", 1984
Joachim Weimann, Andreas Knabe, and Ronnie Schob, eds. Measuring
Happiness: The Economics of Well-Being (MIT Press; 2015) 206 pages
Eric G. Wilson "Against Happiness", 2008
Happiness is the Wrong Metric. Springer: 2018. DOI:
Articles and videos
Happiness Studies, International Society for
Quality-of-Life Studies (ISQOLS), quarterly since 2000, also online
A Point of View: The pursuit of happiness (January 2015),
Srikumar Rao: Plug into your hard-wired happiness – Video of a short
lecture on how to be happy
Dan Gilbert: Why are we happy? – Video of a short lecture on how our
"psychological immune system" lets us feel happy even when things
don’t go as planned.
TED Radio Hour: Simply Happy – various guest speakers, with some
Find more aboutHappinessat's sister projects
Definitions from Wiktionary
Media from Wikimedia Commons
News from Wikinews
Quotations from Wikiquote
Texts from Wikisource
Textbooks from Wikibooks
Learning resources from Wikiversity
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Happiness – concise survey of influential theories
The Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy entry "Pleasure" – ancient
and modern philosophers' and neuroscientists' approaches to happiness
Happiness Forum promotes dialogue on tools and techniques
for human happiness and wellbeing.
Happiness is a UK movement committed to building a happier
Improving happiness through humanistic leadership- University of Bath,
The World Database of
Happiness – a register of scientific research
on the subjective appreciation of life.
Happiness Questionnaire – Online psychological test to
measure your happiness.
Happiness – research project with downloadable app that
surveys users periodically and determines personal factors
Pharrell Williams – Happy (Official Music Video) added to
P. Williams: i Am Other – Retrieved 2015-11-21
Mono no aware
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