Andrew (perspectivism) wrote,

happiness, multiculturally and generally!

Interview with a "Professor of Subjective Well-Being" (U of Illinois at U-C):

Happiness can mean different things to different people. How do you know that people take what you say the same way?

This can be a problem. The word "happy" doesn't have an exact equivalent in some languages. In English, happiness has a number of different meanings. It depends on the context. It might mean "satisfied", it might mean "joyful", it might mean a longer-term happiness. We try to break down what people mean by using a bunch of different words describing emotions, including words from their own language. We use these words in various different tests of happiness.

How do you do that?

For example, we ask people how happy they are in general. Then we do "experience sampling", where we contact them at random moments over a period of time and ask them how they feel at that moment, and then add up those scores. Finally, we do retrospective recall, where we ask people how happy they were at a particular time. We use all these so we know what we're asking them and to pick up any biases. The only measures we haven't yet used are biological, such as cortisol and immune response. We could use these to look at stress and tension. People's reports of their feelings are crucial, but I don't believe they should take priority over their physiology or facial expressions.

Do you think it's possible for everyone to be happy?

I think it's possible for most people to be happy most of the time. I also believe that there's a small proportion of society who are so predisposed to depression that drugs are necessary to prevent it. But we find that the majority of people in the West are mostly happy, certainly above neutral. I find it interesting that reporters, especially those from New York City, cannot believe that. I don't know whether reporters from that city are particularly unhappy, but they find it fantastic when I tell them that most people are, on average, happy.
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