Take the ‘Happiness Experiment’

Hap­pi­ness is a state of mind. We all know that. But when it comes to decid­ing whether anoth­er per­son is tru­ly hap­py, our per­cep­tions are col­ored by our own states of mind–in par­tic­u­lar, by our  val­ue judg­ments. A per­son can have all the men­tal char­ac­ter­is­tics of a hap­py per­son, but if he or she is liv­ing what we con­sid­er a “bad life,” we are far less like­ly to judge that they are hap­py. Sur­pris­ing­ly, the same moral eval­u­a­tions do not seem to enter into our con­cept of unhap­pi­ness.

These are the find­ings of a trio of researchers at Yale Uni­ver­si­ty: Jonathan Phillips, Luke Mis­en­heimer and Joshua Knobe. You can read about the study in their paper, “The Ordi­nary Con­cept of Hap­pi­ness (And Oth­ers Like It),” pub­lished in the July, 2011 Emo­tion Review. The study is part of a new move­ment called Exper­i­men­tal Phi­los­o­phy (or “x‑phi”), which goes beyond the philoso­pher’s tra­di­tion­al method of test­ing intuitions–a pri­ori con­cep­tu­al analysis–to use of the tools of cog­ni­tive sci­ence. You can learn more at the Yale Exper­i­men­tal Phi­los­o­phy Web site, and take the enter­tain­ing video test above to get a taste of some of the coun­ter­in­tu­itive find­ings of x‑phi.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Yale Intro­duces Anoth­er Sev­en Free Online Cours­es, Bring­ing Total to 42

Yale’s Open Cours­es Inspire a New Series of Old-Fash­ioned Books

Psy­chol­o­gy: Free Cours­es

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Comments (6)
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  • leslie sachs says:

    when you intro­duce the con­cept of “love” and cre­ate a sen­si­bil­i­ty of two dis­tinct types of peo­ple (“good” and “bad”) yet they share the same feel­ings of being un-loved..then the exper­i­men­tal focus shifts com­plete­ly and the LOVE fac­tor col­ors all per­cep­tions.

  • farah says:

    mean­ing­ful !!

  • Cynthia ☮ ❤ ❀ says:

    Looks like a lot of mon­ey was spent to research COMMON SENSE!

  • This embod­ies pre­cise­ly what is wrong with much of what pass­es for ana­lyt­ic phi­los­o­phy. We are asked to sus­pend our com­mon sense and accept premis­es that are absurd. Why should one believe that the psy­cho­log­i­cal states of the 2 women could pos­si­bly be iden­ti­cal. My dif­fer­ing judg­ments are not reducible to my per­son­al moral val­ues. I sim­ply reject the premise. What I add a Maria #3 who is a street pros­ti­tute to sup­port her meth addic­tion and who, in her spare time, tor­tures kit­tens. But, I insist, her psy­cho­log­i­cal state is the same as Maria #1. That is not “exper­i­men­tal” phi­los­o­phy because that per­son does not exist and I would say prob­a­bly can­not exist in the world as we know it. Give me evi­dence that Maria #2 exists and then per­haps we can have an exper­i­ment.

  • sherry graham says:

    Maria #1 is not using drugs or alco­hol in the way Maria #2 is. My EXPERIENCE which cre­ates some of my per­cep­tion is that peo­ple who are using d&a in an extreme amount over long peri­ods of time, do not know real­ly how they tru­ly feel b/c they are mask­ing their feel­ings. It may be a sim­ple answer but the observer’s per­cep­tions are what is tru­ly being mea­sured here.

  • Joe says:

    We are tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the future hap­pi­ness of these two. Push­ing her friends away, snort­ing coke, sleep­ing around, and shal­low pur­suits with lit­tle promise. Maria #2 is in for a big fall.
    All of this must be tak­en in con­text.

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