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Some Conceptual and Methodological Issues on Happiness: Lessons from Evolutionary Biology


  • Yew-Kwang NG

    (Division of Economics, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, 637332.)


Despite recent intense interest, happiness studies have been impeded by some conceptual and methodological problems, including viewing happiness (well-being/welfare) as different over different persons, as relative, multi-dimensional, non-cardinally measurable, interpersonally noncomparable and using non-cardinal and interpersonally non-comparable methods of happiness measurement. Using the evolutionary biology of happiness, this paper argues that happiness is absolute, universal, and unidimensional and is also cardinally measurable and interpersonally comparable. This is needed to make choices motivated by reward (pleasure) and punishment (pain) consistent with fitness maximization. However, happiness indices obtained by virtually all existing methods of happiness measurement are largely non-cardinal and non-comparable, making the use of averaging in group happiness indices of dubious philosophical validity. A method of measuring happiness to give cardinal and interpersonally comparable indices is discussed. These may contribute towards the more scientific study of happiness that is based on sounder methodological grounds as well as yielding more useful results.

Suggested Citation

  • Yew-Kwang NG, 2013. "Some Conceptual and Methodological Issues on Happiness: Lessons from Evolutionary Biology," Economic Growth Centre Working Paper Series 1308, Nanyang Technological University, School of Social Sciences, Economic Growth Centre.
  • Handle: RePEc:nan:wpaper:1308

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Yew-Kwang Ng, 1999. "Utility, informed preference, or happiness: Following Harsanyi's argument to its logical conclusion," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, pages 197-216.
    2. Edward Deci & Richard Ryan, 2008. "Hedonia, eudaimonia, and well-being: an introduction," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 9(1), pages 1-11, January.
    3. Yew-Kwang Ng, 2008. "Happiness Studies: Ways to Improve Comparability and Some Public Policy Implications," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 84(265), pages 253-266, June.
    4. Yew-Kwang Ng, 1975. "Bentham or Bergson? Finite Sensibility, Utility Functions and Social Welfare Functions," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 42(4), pages 545-569.
    5. Carol Ryff & Burton Singer, 2008. "Know Thyself and Become What You Are: A Eudaimonic Approach to Psychological Well-Being," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 9(1), pages 13-39, January.
    6. Jan Ott, 2010. "Greater Happiness for a Greater Number: Some Non-controversial Options for Governments," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 11(5), pages 631-647, October.
    7. Yann Algan & Christian Dustmann & Albrecht Glitz & Alan Manning, 2010. "The Economic Situation of First and Second-Generation Immigrants in France, Germany and the United Kingdom," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 120(542), pages 4-30, February.
    8. David Colander, 2007. "Edgeworth's Hedonimeter and the Quest to Measure Utility," Middlebury College Working Paper Series 0723, Middlebury College, Department of Economics.
    9. Ruut Veenhoven, 2010. "Greater Happiness for a Greater Number," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 11(5), pages 605-629, October.
    10. Mark Holder & Andrea Klassen, 2010. "Temperament and Happiness in Children," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 11(4), pages 419-439, August.
    11. Ethan McMahan & David Estes, 2011. "Measuring Lay Conceptions of Well-Being: The Beliefs About Well-Being Scale," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 12(2), pages 267-287, April.
    12. Wim Kalmijn & Ruut Veenhoven, 2005. "Measuring Inequality of Happiness in Nations: In Search for Proper Statistics," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 6(4), pages 357-396, December.
    13. Torbjørn Torsheim & Oddrun Samdal & Mette Rasmussen & John Freeman & Robert Griebler & Wolfgang Dür, 2012. "Cross-National Measurement Invariance of the Teacher and Classmate Support Scale," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 105(1), pages 145-160, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Giovanni D'Alessio, 2017. "Well-being, the socio-economic context and price differences: the North-South gap," Questioni di Economia e Finanza (Occasional Papers) 385, Bank of Italy, Economic Research and International Relations Area.

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    Evolutionary biology; happiness; interpersonal comparison; measurability; wellbeing; welfare.;

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