Ruut Veenhoven: What the hell is happiness?

Ruut Veenhoven: What the hell is happiness?


When used in a broad sense, the word happiness is synonymous with ‘quality of life’ or ‘well-being’. In this meaning happiness denotes that a life is good, but does not specify what is good about that life. The word ‘happiness’ is also used in more specific ways, and these meanings can be clarified with the help of the classification of qualities of life.

There is a difference between chances for a good life and actual outcomes of life. There is a distinction between external and internal qualities. Together, these two dichotomies mark four qualities of life, all of which have been denoted by the word ‘happiness’.

Livability of the environment

It denotes good living conditions. Often the terms ‘quality-of-life’ and ‘wellbeing’ are used interchangeably for this particular meaning, especially in the writings of ecologists and sociologists. Economists sometimes use the term ‘welfare’ to denote this meaning. ‘Livability’ is a better word, because it refers explicitly to a characteristic of the environment. Politicians and social reformers typically stress this quality of life.

Life-ability of the person

The right top quadrant denotes inner life-chances. That is: how well we are equipped to cope with the problems of life. This aspect of the good life is also known by different names. In biology the phenomenon is referred to as ‘adaptive potential’. On other occasions it is denoted by the medical term ‘health’. Sen (1992) calls this quality of life variant ‘capability’. I prefer the simple term ‘life-ability’, which contrasts elegantly with ‘livability’. This quality of life is central in the thinking of therapists and educators.

Usefulness of life

The notion that a good life must be good for something more than itself. This presumes some higher value, such as ecological preservation or cultural development. In fact, there is a myriad of values on which the usefulness of a life can be judged. Moral advisors, such as your pastor, emphasize this quality of life.

Satisfaction with life

The inner outcomes of life. That is the quality of a life in the eye of the beholder. As we deal with conscious humans this quality boils down to subjective appreciation of life. This is commonly referred to using terms such as ‘subjective wellbeing’, ‘life-satisfaction’ and ‘happiness’ in a limited sense of the word. This is the kind of happiness I deal with in this paper.


World Happiness Report 2016 is out: Denmark leads the Index

World Happiness Report 2016 is out: Denmark leads the Index


The World Happiness Report 2016 Update, which ranks 156 countries by their happiness levels, was released today in Rome in advance of UN World Happiness Day, March 20th. The widespread interest in the World Happiness Reports, of which this is the fourth, reflects growing global interest in using happiness and subjective well-being as primary indicators of the quality of human development. Because of this growing interest, many governments, communities and organizations are using happiness data, and the results of subjective well-being research, to enable policies that support better lives.

Every year, the World Happiness Report surveys numerous people from various countries around the world in search of, as the name implies, which country has the happiest population. This year’s winner is Denmark, followed closely by Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway. The US ranked 13th.

So how do the researchers come up with this list? The process is actually rather simple, as the Index’s website explains: “The rankings are based on answers to the main life evaluation question asked in the poll. This is called the Cantril ladder: it asks respondents to think of a ladder, with the best possible life for them being a 10, and the worst possible life being a 0. They are then asked to rate their own current lives on that 0 to 10 scale.”

In short, the researchers straight-up asked people to rank their own happiness. These answers are then weighted based on six other factors: levels of GDP, life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom, and corruption.

Then, the results are compared to Dystopia, an imaginary place the team created where everyone is miserable. This fictional, sad realm allows all of the countries to remain positive in the six factors listed above. In other words, Dystopia is a benchmark that every country passes to make a better graph.

If you’re looking for reasons to dismiss your home country’s less-than-stellar ranking, one thing this index has going against it is its rather small sample size, which only surveys 2,000 to 3,000 people per country. When you consider population size, that’s not great.

However, according to the team, “a sample size of 2,000 to 3,000 is large enough to give a fairly good estimate at the national level. This is confirmed by the 95 percent confidence intervals shown at the right-hand end of each country bar.”

Now that you understand where these rankings come from, let’s take a look at some of the best and worst.


As mentioned, Denmark leads the pack with Switzerland (last year’s winner), Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, and Sweden rounding out the top 10. The US ranks 13th, Germany 16th, and the UK 23rd, to name a few big players.

The unhappiest countries are Afghanistan at 154th followed by Togo and Syria. Burundi comes in last at 157th.

Besides bragging rights, what do these rankings truly tell us? The team believes the report helps countries gauge how ready they are to start pursuing the UN’sSustainable Development Goals, which include ending poverty and hunger, increasing healthcare and the quality of education, reaching gender equality and many other great, humanitarian goals that would benefit the world.

The team also believes that the index is helpful because it looks at more than just economic factors, like most other world polls do.

You can download the full report, and browse the entire rankings list on the World Happiness Index’s official site.




Be Happy. How To Bring More Joy To Your Life

Be Happy. How To Bring More Joy To Your Life


What’s it going to take to make you happy? Getting married? Getting that job? Maybe a big raise? Or retiring? All these things sound great, but it’s unlikely that any of them will actually make you happier – at least not for long.

In this course, created by Life Reimagined, you’ll learn about happiness – what it is and how we get it. Alongside Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychologist, professor, and author of the book The How of Happiness, you’ll be guided through scientifically tested exercises that have been shown to make people happier.

So if you want to be happier, and who doesn’t, you can enroll now.

Dan Ariely: What makes us feel good about our work?

Dan Ariely: What makes us feel good about our work?


What motivates us to work? Contrary to conventional wisdom, it isn’t just money. But it’s not exactly joy either. It seems that most of us thrive by making constant progress and feeling a sense of purpose. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely presents two eye-opening experiments that reveal our unexpected and nuanced attitudes toward meaning in our work.


Remarkable Insight:

“The good news is that if we added all of those components and thought about them — how do we create our own meaning, pride, motivation, and how do we do it in our workplace, and for the employees — I think we could get people to be both more productive and happier”



Dan Ariely is a Behavioral economist. He is a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University and a founding member of the Center for Advanced Hindsight. He is the author of the bestsellers Predictably Irrational, The Upside of Irrationality, and The Honest Truth About Dishonesty. Through his research and his (often amusing and unorthodox) experiments, he questions the forces that influence human behavior and the irrational ways in which we often all behave.

Daniel Kahneman: The riddle of experience vs. memory

Daniel Kahneman: The riddle of experience vs. memory


Using examples from vacations to colonoscopies, Nobel laureate and founder of behavioral economics Daniel Kahneman reveals how our “experiencing selves” and our “remembering selves” perceive happiness differently. This new insight has profound implications for economics, public policy — and our own self-awareness.

Remarkable insight:

“Below an income of 600,000 dollars a year people are unhappy, and they get progressively unhappier the poorer they get. Above that, we get an absolutely flat line. I mean I’ve rarely seen lines so flat. Clearly, what is happening is money does not buy you experiential happiness, but lack of money certainly buys you misery, and we can measure that misery very, very clearly. In terms of the other self, the remembering self, you get a different story. The more money you earn, the more satisfied you are. That does not hold for emotions”




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