What can we learn from happiness surveys?
Journal of Practical Ethics
University of Oxford, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics
Defenders of happiness surveys often claim that individuals are infallible judges of their own happiness. I argue that this claim is untrue. Happiness, like other emotions, has three features that make it vulnerable to introspective error: it is dispositional, it is intentional, and it is publically manifest. Other defenders of the survey method claim, more modestly, that individuals are in general reliable judges of their own happiness. I argue that this is probably true, but that it limits what happiness surveys might tell us, for the very claim that people are reliable judges of their own happiness implies that we already have a measure of how happy they are, independent of self-reports. Happiness surveys may help us extend and refine this prior measure, but they cannot, on pain of unintelligibility, supplant it altogether.
Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 20 - 32 (12)