Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 99–138 | Cite as

Life satisfaction, ethical reflection, and the science of happiness

  • Dan HaybronEmail author


Life satisfaction is widely considered to be a central aspect of human welfare. Many have identified happiness with it, and some maintain that well-being consists largely or wholly in being satisfied with one’s life. Empirical research on well-being relies heavily on life satisfaction studies. The paper contends that life satisfaction attitudes are less important, and matter for different reasons, than is widely believed.] For such attitudes are appropriately governed by ethical norms and are perspectival in ways that make the relationship between life satisfaction and welfare far more convoluted than we tend to expect. And the common identification of life satisfaction with happiness, as well as widespread views about the centrality of life satisfaction for well-being, are problematical at best. The argument also reveals an unexpected way in which philosophical ethics can inform scientific psychology: specifically, ethical reflection can help explain empirical results insofar as they depend on people’s values.


ethics flourishing happiness life satisfaction philosophy self-reports subjective well-being utility welfare well-being 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.



Material for this paper was presented for the Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology program at Washington University. I want to thank the audience for helpful commentary. For their invaluable comments on earlier versions of my central arguments regarding life satisfaction, I wish to thank Bengt Brülde, Ruth Chang, Richard Dean, Jerry Fodor, Douglas Husak, Colin McGinn, Stephen Stich, L. W. Sumner, Larry Temkin, Valerie Tiberius, and Robert Woolfolk, as well as audiences at the University of Arizona, Augustana College and the New Jersey Regional Philosophical Association’s Fall 2000 conference.


  1. Adams V.H.I. (1997). A paradox in African American quality of life Social Indicators Research 42: 205–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Almeder, R.: 2000, Human Happiness and Morality (Prometheus Press, Buffalo, NY)Google Scholar
  3. Andrews F.M., Withey S.B. (1976). Social Indicators of Well-Being. New York: Plenum PressGoogle Scholar
  4. Annas J. (1993). The Morality of Happiness. New York: Oxford University PressGoogle Scholar
  5. Argyle M. (1996). Subjective well-being In: Offer A., (ed) In Pursuit of the Quality of Life. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 18–45Google Scholar
  6. Argyle M. (1999). Causes and correlates of happiness. In: Kahneman D., Diener E., Schwarz N., (Eds) Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology .New York: Russell Sage Foundation, pp. 3–25Google Scholar
  7. Argyle M. (2002). The Psychology of Happiness. New York: RoutledgeGoogle Scholar
  8. Barrow R. (1980). Happiness and Schooling. New York: St. Martin's PressGoogle Scholar
  9. Barrow R. (1991). Utilitarianism: A Contemporary Statement. Brookfield, VT: Edward ElgarGoogle Scholar
  10. Benditt T.M. (1974). Happiness Philosophical Studies 25: 1–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Benditt T.M. (1978). Happiness and satisfaction--a rejoinder to carson The Personalist 59: 108–109Google Scholar
  12. Brandt R.B. (1979). A Theory of the Good and the Right. New York: Oxford University PressGoogle Scholar
  13. Brandt R.B. (1989). Fairness to happiness Social Theory & Practice 15: 33–58Google Scholar
  14. Campbell, R.: 1973. ‘The Pursuit of happiness’, Personalist 54, pp. 325–337Google Scholar
  15. Carson T. (1978). Happiness and the good life Southwestern Journal of Philosophy 9:73–88Google Scholar
  16. Carson T. (1981). Happiness, contentment, and the good life Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 62:378–92Google Scholar
  17. Crisp, R. ‘Hedonism Reconsidered,’ Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. (forthcoming)Google Scholar
  18. Csikszentmihalyi M. (1999). If we are so rich, why aren't we happy? American Psychologist 54(10): 821–827CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Davis W. (1981a). Pleasure and happiness Philosophical Studies 39: 305–318CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Davis W. (1981b). A theory of happiness American Philosophical Quarterly 18: 111–120Google Scholar
  21. Diener E. (1994). Assessing subjective well-being: progress and opportunities Social Indicators Research 31: 103–157CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Diener E., Biswas-Diener R., (2002). Will money increase subjective well-being? Social Indicators Research 57: 119–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Diener E., Diener C. (1996). Most people are happy Psychological Science 7(3): 181–185CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Diener E., Emmons R.A., et al. (1985). The satisfaction with life scale Journal of Personality Assessment 49:71–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Diener E., Scollon C.N., et al. (2003). The evolving concept of subjective well-being: the multifaceted nature of happiness Advances in Cell Aging and Gerontology 15: 187–219Google Scholar
  26. Diener E., Seligman M., (2004). Beyond money: Toward an economy of well-being Psychological Science in the Public Interest 5(1): 1–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Diener E., Suh E., et al. (1997). Recent studies on subjective well-being Indian Journal of Clinical Psychology 24: 25–41Google Scholar
  28. Diener E., Suh E.M., (eds). (2000). Culture and Subjective Well-Being. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT PressGoogle Scholar
  29. Diener E., Suh E.M., et al. (1999). Subjective well-being: three decades of progress Psychological Bulletin 125(2): 276–302CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Elster J. (1983). Sour Grapes. New York: Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  31. Emmons R.A., McCullough M.E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84(2): 377–389CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Feldman F. (2004). Pleasure and the Good Life. New York: Oxford University PressGoogle Scholar
  33. Frederick S., Loewenstein G., (1999). Hedonic adaptation. In: Kahneman D., Diener E., Schwarz N., (eds) Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology. New York: Russell Sage Foundation Press, pp. 302–329Google Scholar
  34. Frey B.S., Stutzer A., (2002). Happiness and Economics. Princeton: PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  35. Griffin, J.: 1979. ‘Is unhappiness morally more important than happiness’? Philosophical Quarterly 29, pp. 47–55Google Scholar
  36. Griffin J. (1986). Well-Being: Its Meaning, Measurement, and Moral Importance. Oxford: Clarendon PressGoogle Scholar
  37. Haybron D.M. (2000). Two philosophical problems in the study of happiness The Journal of Happiness Studies 1(2): 207–225CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Haybron D.M., (2001). Happiness and pleasure Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 62(3): 501–528Google Scholar
  39. Haybron D.M., (2003). What do we want from a theory of happiness? Metaphilosophy 34(3): 305–329CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Haybron D.M.: ‘On being happy or unhappy’, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. (forthcoming)Google Scholar
  41. Kahneman D. (1999). Objective happiness. In: Kahneman D., Diener E., Schwarz N., (eds). Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, pp. 3–25Google Scholar
  42. Kahneman, D. and E. Diener et al.: (eds). 1999. Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology. (Russell Sage Foundation Press, New York)Google Scholar
  43. Kekes J. (1982). Happiness Mind 91: 358–376CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kekes J., (1988). The Examined Life. Lewisburg: Bucknell University PressGoogle Scholar
  45. Kekes J., (1992). Happiness. In: Becker L.C., Becker C.B., (eds) Encyclopedia of Ethics. New York: Garland, pp. 430–435Google Scholar
  46. Larsen R.J., Fredrickson B.L., (1999). Measurement issues in emotion research. In: Kahneman D., Diener E., Schwarz N., (eds) Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology. New York: Russell Sage Foundation Press, pp. 40–60Google Scholar
  47. Mayerfeld J. (1996). The moral asymmetry of happiness and suffering Southern Journal of Philosophy 34: 317–338Google Scholar
  48. Mayerfeld J. (1999). Suffering and Moral Responsibility. New York: OxfordGoogle Scholar
  49. McFall L. (1989). Happiness. New York: Peter LangGoogle Scholar
  50. Meynell H. (1969). Human flourishing Religious Studies 5: 147–154Google Scholar
  51. Michalos A. (1980). Satisfaction and happiness Social Indicators Research 8: 385–422CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Michalos A. (1985). Multiple discrepancies theory Social Indicators Research 16: 347–413CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Millgram E. (2000). What's the use of utility Philosophy and Public Affairs 29(2):113–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Montague R. (1967). Happiness Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 67: 87–102Google Scholar
  55. Myers D.G., (1992). The Pursuit of Happiness: Who is Happy, and Why. New York: William Morrow and CoGoogle Scholar
  56. Myers D.G., (2000). The funds, friends, and faith of happy people American Psychologist 55(1): 56–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Nozick R. (1974). Anarchy, State, and Utopia. New York: Basic BooksGoogle Scholar
  58. Nozick R. (1989). The Examined Life. New York: Simon and SchusterGoogle Scholar
  59. Nussbaum M. (2000). Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach. New York: Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  60. Rescher N. (1972). Welfare: The Social Issues in Philosophical Perspective. Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University PressGoogle Scholar
  61. Rescher N. (1980). Unpopular Essays on Technological Progress. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh PressGoogle Scholar
  62. Ryan R.M., Deci E.L., (2001). On happiness and human potentials: A review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being Annual Review of Psychology 52: 141–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Schwarz N., Strack F., (1991). Evaluating one's life: a judgment model of subjective well-being. In: Strack F., Argyle M., Schwarz N., (eds) Subjective Well-Being. Elmsford, NY: Pergamon Press, pp. 27–47Google Scholar
  64. Schwarz N., Strack F., (1999). Reports of subjective well-being: judgmental processes and their methodological implications. In: Kahneman D., Diener E., Schwarz N., (eds) Well-Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology, New York: Russell Sage Foundation Press, pp. 61–84Google Scholar
  65. Sen A. (1987). On Ethics and Economics. Oxford: Basil BlackwellGoogle Scholar
  66. Silverstein M. (2000). In defense of happiness: a response to the experience machine Social Theory and Practice 26(2): 279–300Google Scholar
  67. Snyder C.R., Lopez S.J., (eds) (2002). Handbook of Positive Psychology. New York: OxfordGoogle Scholar
  68. Sprigge T.L.S. (1987). The Rational Foundations of Ethics. New York: Routledge and Kegan PaulGoogle Scholar
  69. Sprigge, T.L.S.: 1991. ‘The greatest happiness principle’, Utilitas 3(1), pp. 37–51Google Scholar
  70. Strack F., Schwarz N., et al. (1990). The salience of comparison standards and the activation of social norms: consequences for judgments of happiness and their communication British Journal of Social Psychology 29: 303–314Google Scholar
  71. Suh E., Diener E., et al. (1998). The shifting basis of life satisfaction judgments across cultures: Emotions versus norms Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74(2): 482–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Sumner L.W. (1996). Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics. New York: OxfordGoogle Scholar
  73. Tatarkiewicz W. (1976). Analysis of Happiness. The Hague: Martinus NijhoffGoogle Scholar
  74. Telfer E. (1980). Happiness. New York: St. Martin's PressGoogle Scholar
  75. Thomas D.A.L. (1968). Happiness Philosophical Quarterly 18: 97–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Tiberius V. (2002). Perspective: a prudential virtue American Philosophical Quarterly 39(4): 305–324Google Scholar
  77. Veenhoven R. (1984). Conditions of Happiness. Dordrecht: D. ReidelGoogle Scholar
  78. Veenhoven R. (1997). Advances in understanding happiness Revue Québécoise de Psychologie 18: 29–79Google Scholar
  79. Von Wright G.H. (1963). The Varieties of Goodness. London: Routledge & Kegan PaulGoogle Scholar
  80. Williams B. (1985). Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. Cambridge: Harvard University PressGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophySaint Louis UniversitySt. LouisUSA

Personalised recommendations