DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L033-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved March 05, 2024, from

Article Summary

In ordinary use, the word ‘happiness’ has to do with one’s situation (one is fortunate) or with one’s state of mind (one is glad, cheerful) or, typically, with both. These two elements appear in different proportions on different occasions. If one is concerned with a long stretch of time (as in ‘a happy life’), one is likely to focus more on situation than on state of mind. If a short period of time, it is not uncommon to focus on states of mind.

By and large philosophers are more interested in long-term cases. One’s life is happy if one is content that life has brought one much of what one regards as important. There is a pull in these lifetime assessments towards a person’s objective situation and away from the person’s subjective responses. The important notion for ethics is ‘wellbeing’ – that is, a notion of what makes an individual life go well. ‘Happiness’ is important because many philosophers have thought that happiness is the only thing that contributes to wellbeing, or because they have used ‘happiness’ to mean the same as ‘wellbeing’.

What, then, makes a life go well? Some have thought that it was the presence of a positive feeling tone. Others have thought that it was having one’s desires fulfilled – either actual desires (as some would say) or informed desires (as others would say). It is unclear how stringent the requirement of ‘informed’ must be; if it is fairly stringent it can, in effect, require abandoning desire explanations and adopting instead an explanation in terms of a list of good-making features in human life.

    Citing this article:
    Griffin, J.P.. Happiness, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L033-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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