Accounts of happiness in the philosophical literature see it as either a judgment of satisfaction with one’s life or as a balance of positive over negative feelings or emotional states. There are sound objections to both types of account, although each captures part of what happiness is. Seeing it as an emotion allows us to incorporate both features of the accounts thought to be incompatible. Emotions are analyzed as multicomponent states including judgments, feelings, physical symptoms, and behavioral dispositions. It is shown that prototypical happiness contains all these components, and each is explicated. The concept of happiness, like the concepts of other emotions, is a cluster concept. The features of such concepts are made clear. Happiness is shown to be similar to other emotions in many respects, including the phenomenon of adaptation, the “paradox of happiness,” and the existence of both paradigm and borderline instances. The account allows us to capture all that was right in earlier accounts while avoiding objections to them.
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Sumner also notes two secondary senses of happiness. The first is a pro-attitude toward particular objects or states of affairs, things one is happy about. The second is a pure feeling of happiness, “not quite grand enough to count as an emotion,” a “mood of optimism” lacking an intentional object. (Sumner 1996, p. 144)
Another leading proponent of the view is Tatarkiewicz (1976).
For more extensive argument see Goldman (2016).
Tatarkiewicz (1976) is a prime example.
Feldman’s analysis of masochism contains one thought too many, i.e. taking pleasure in a sensation I take displeasure in.
For more extended discussion of types of pleasure, see Goldman (forthcoming).
It might be thought that the phenomenon of adaptation poses a problem for a desire satisfaction theory of well-being such as I have proposed, since it seems to show that satisfaction of even rational desires does not raise the level of personal welfare long term. Two responses can be made. First, the satisfaction of a central rational desire does have an immediate positive effect on well-being. Second, the level of well-being measures overall satisfaction of rational desires, and since, when some are satisfied, others will arise and take their central place, the overall level will tend to remain relatively stable.
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Goldman, A.H. Happiness is an Emotion. J Ethics 21, 1–16 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10892-016-9240-y
- Cluster concepts