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Why Negative Feelings are Important when Assessing Well-Being

Abstract

Present knowledge on the human brain, and the evolutionary process that shaped it, allow for a biological model for what happiness is about. I shall discuss the assessment of happiness; arguing that based on this model, the focus should be on estimating negative affect. Feelings are a feature introduced by evolution for the purpose of evaluating behavioral options. They tend to be either positive or negative due to their role in directing behavior either toward opportunities or away from danger. Happiness can be construed as the net sum of positive and negative feelings. A salient point is that the evidence suggests the mammalian brain has a positive mood as a default setting, implying that people are reasonably happy as long as punishing circuits are inactive. Activation of negative feelings—particularly in the form of anxiety, depression and pain—is therefore likely to be the main cause of a substandard level of well-being. Consequently, instruments that probe negative affect may offer a reasonable strategy, or at least important additional information, when evaluating happiness. These instruments may also provide a suitable foundation for policy making.

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Grinde, B. Why Negative Feelings are Important when Assessing Well-Being. J Happiness Stud 17, 1741–1752 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-015-9667-z

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