The Good in Happiness

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Publication Title

Oxford Studies in Experimental Philosophy




An emerging scientific consensus holds that happiness is best understood as a certain combination of psychological states including high positive affect, low negative affect and high life satisfaction. In contrast to this descriptive view of happiness, a number of philosophers have argued for an evaluative understanding of happiness, which holds that even when these descriptive criteria are met, one is not happy if one’s life is not actually good. This chapter investigates the ordinary understanding of happiness and find that it differs in important respects from both conceptions. Unlike descriptive views, normative evaluations are central to determining whether an agent is happy, yet unlike evaluative views, people do not consider the agent’s overall life when determining if the agent is happy, but rather focus solely on the agent’s own psychological states. To be happy, according to the ordinary understanding, is to have positive psychological states that are good to have.