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Contentment and Affect in the Estimation of Happiness

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Abstract

How do we assess how happy we are? One theory is that we compare life-as-it-is with standards of how-life-should-be. In this view, happiness emerges from a cognitive evaluation that draws on socially constructed standard of the good life. Another theory holds that we rather infer happiness on the basis of how well we feel most of the time. In that view, happiness is an unreasoned affective experience that roots in the gratification of universal human needs. One question that emerges from this discussion is whether these are really independent ways of evaluating life. If so, a next question is what their relative weight is in the evaluation. These questions are addressed at the nation level using data of the Gallup World Poll over the years 2006–2010. This survey in 127 nations involves not only a question on overall life satisfaction, but also a more cognitively focused question on how close one’s life is to the best possible and a series of questions on yesterday’s mood. Analysis of average scores in nations shows that mood and contentment are much intertwined, but also add to overall life satisfaction independently, the former more than the latter.

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Notes

  1. Veenhoven (2011c): section H6.2.3.

  2. Four of these studies measured hedonic level using Affect Balance Scales (type A-AB) and contentment using the Cantril ladder (type C-BW). The average correlation is +0.52. Two more studies used an Affect Balance Scale for measuring hedonic level but measured contentment using responses to questions about perceived realization of wants (type C-RW). The average correlation is +0.40 in this case. One more study measured hedonic level using average daily mood over 6 weeks as reported in a dairy (type A-ARE) and measured contentment with the Cantril ladder (type C-BW). The correlation was only +0.26.

  3. Veenhoven (2011c), section H6.1.3.

  4. Veenhoven (2011c), section H61.2.

  5. The full classification of this question in the World Database of Happiness’ collection of ‘Happiness Measures’ is O-SLW/c/sq/n/11/a.

  6. The full classification of this question in the World Database of Happiness’ collection of ‘Happiness Measures’ is C-BW/c/sq/l/11/a.

  7. The full code of this indicator in the World Database of Happiness’ collection of ‘Happiness Measures’ is: A-AB/yd/mq/2/a.

  8. Test for statistical significance inform us about the chance that a pattern observed in a probability sample also exists in the population from which that sample was drawn. This dataset covers almost all countries of the present World and therefore we can take the observed correlations for what they are.

  9. This is not to say that this combination never occurs at the micro level of individuals.

  10. Measure code C-RG/cm/mq/v/4/a in the collection ‘Measures of Happiness’ of the World Database of Happiness.

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Correspondence to Mariano Rojas.

Appendix

Appendix

See Table 4.

Table 4 List of 127 countries/autonomous territories

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Rojas, M., Veenhoven, R. Contentment and Affect in the Estimation of Happiness. Soc Indic Res 110, 415–431 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-011-9952-0

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