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How universal is happiness?

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  • Veenhoven, Ruut

Abstract

There is a longstanding discussion on whether happiness is culturally relative or not. The following questions are addressed in that context: 1) Do we all assess how much we like our life? 2) Do we appraise our life on the same grounds? 3) Are the conditions for happiness similar for all of us? 4) Are the consequences of happiness similar in all cultures? 5) Do we all seek happiness? 6) Do we seek happiness in similar ways? 7) Do we enjoy life about equally much? The available data suggest that all humans tend to assess how much they like their life. The evaluation draws on affective experience, which is linked to gratification of universal human needs and on cognitive comparison which is framed by cultural standards of the good life. The overall appraisal seems to depend more on the former, than on the latter source of information. Conditions for happiness appear to be quite similar across the world and so are the consequences of enjoying life or not. There is more cultural variation in the valuation of happiness and in beliefs about conditions for happiness. The greatest variation is found in how happy people are.

Suggested Citation

  • Veenhoven, Ruut, 2008. "How universal is happiness?," MPRA Paper 16853, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 01 Jun 2008.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:16853
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    File URL: https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/16853/1/MPRA_paper_16853.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. R. Veenhoven, 2008. "Healthy happiness: effects of happiness on physical health and the consequences for preventive health care," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 9(3), pages 449-469, September.
    2. Ruut Veenhoven & Michael Hagerty, 2006. "Rising Happiness in Nations 1946–2004: A Reply to Easterlin," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 79(3), pages 421-436, December.
    3. Robert Biswas-Diener & Joar Vittersø & Ed Diener, 2005. "Most People are Pretty Happy, but There is Cultural Variation: The Inughuit, The Amish, and The Maasai," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 6(3), pages 205-226, September.
    4. Ruut Veenhoven, 2000. "The Four Qualities of Life," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 1-39, March.
    5. Hilke Brockmann & Jan Delhey & Christian Welzel & Hao Yuan, 2009. "The China Puzzle: Falling Happiness in a Rising Economy," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 10(4), pages 387-405, August.
    6. Luis Rayo & Gary S. Becker, 2007. "Evolutionary Efficiency and Happiness," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 115, pages 302-337.
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    Cited by:

    1. Ruut Veenhoven, 2010. "Greater Happiness for a Greater Number," Journal of Happiness Studies, Springer, vol. 11(5), pages 605-629, October.
    2. Yew-Kwang Ng, 2011. "Happiness Is Absolute, Universal, Ultimate, Unidimensional, Cardinally Measurable and Interpersonally Comparable: A Basis for the Environmentally Responsible Happy Nation Index," Monash Economics Working Papers 16-11, Monash University, Department of Economics.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    happiness; life satisfaction; cultural relativism; human nature; utilitarianism;

    JEL classification:

    • Z10 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - General
    • I00 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - General - - - General
    • D60 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - General

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