Sentimental Hedonism: Pleasure, Purpose, and Public Policy

  • Paul Dolan
  • Laura Kudrna
Part of the International Handbooks of Quality-of-Life book series (IHQL)


Subjective well-being or ‘happiness’ measures are now being used to monitor national well-being and also to appraise public policies. There is a lack of clarity in the literature, however, about what the various measures of happiness capture. This ambiguity acts as a barrier to our understanding of happiness and to applying happiness research to policy challenges. This article addresses the ambiguity using an inclusive framework that conceptualises and categorises happiness according to its ‘level’ – evaluations or experiences – and ‘type’ – ‘pleasure’ or ‘purpose’. Research has typically considered evaluations and there are very few studies that truly measure experiences of purpose. We therefore present new evidence on experiences of purpose based on time use data and more generally show that the determinants of happiness differ according to which level and type of happiness is being assessed. This then raises the normative question of how happiness should be measured. We present some serious problems with evaluations and so we emphasise experiences, ultimately arguing for the ‘sentimental hedonism’ approach – that happiness should be assessed according to people’s feelings, or sentiments, of pleasure and purpose over time. Our main conclusion, though, is that researchers should be more explicit about the underpinnings of their various measures and properly consider what sort of happiness we ought to aim for.


Subjective well-being Pleasure Purpose Happiness Measurement Policy 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Dolan
    • 1
  • Laura Kudrna
    • 1
  1. 1.London School of EconomicsLondonUK

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