Legitimacy Of Happiness To Evaluate Societies’ Performances: Hedonic Treadmill/ Adaptation Theory

2054 words - 8 pages

Happiness (Subjective Well-Being):
For centuries, the basis of philosophical, religious and scholarly debate has been happiness and what the nature of a good life is. In writings on happiness, a common theme is that happiness is relative; hence, the idea of Subjective Well-Being (SWB) came about. SWB refers to the fact that people subjectively feels and perceives or believes their lives are “desirable, pleasant, and good” (Diener, pg. 1). However, even this subjective definition of the good life varies amongst philosophers and scholars. To this, only in the last several decades have they turned to science for explanation.
Initially, one of the reasons sociologists and other behavioral scientists began this happiness research was to evaluate the performance of societies, assuming that happiness levels reveal whether a nation is meeting human needs (Diener, pg. 2). To this, conflicts arose as many anthropologists and sociologists doubted that happiness could reflect true human progress. In support to this objection was the theory that people will adapt to the circumstances of their societies such that all people will eventually be equivalent in terms of happiness (Diener, pg. 2). Additionally, the theory of subjective comparison, leading to the discussion of hedonic adaptation, suggests that happiness is both futile and evasive as it does not depend on objective good: hence, “futile” because a happy life may not necessarily equate to a good life and “evasive” because standards tend to rise with success, making the person as unhappy as before (Veenhoven, pg. 2). In other words, people will report similar levels of happiness despite conditions getting better or worse because humans are prone to adapting to external events and, thus, their needs will simply adjust with changes in their lives. Likewise, despite the wide assumption that material circumstances greatly affect people’s happiness, numerous studies suggest that they are hardly correlated at all. Hence, by this, promoting happiness made little sense at all to those who questioned the legitimacy of happiness in truly evaluating human progress.
Theories of Adaptation:
According to the adaptation level theory by Helson, people perceive objects in relative terms to a level established by previous experiences (Mochon, pg. 633). Thus, a positive event leads to short run increases in SWB. However, in the long run, people habituate to the new experience given by the positive event; hence, diminished the event’s positive effect (Mochon, pg. 634). Thus, adaptation to events refers to when events can initially produce happiness or unhappiness but, over time, those events lose their power to evoke affect (Diener, pg. 45). With this adaptation, good events no longer evoke happiness just as bad events no longer evoke unhappiness. In further support of this adaptation theory, Brickman and Campbell proposed, in 1971, that though current events are better than the standard (making the individual happy),...

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