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RS37 - The Science and Philosophy of Happiness

Release date: June 16, 2011

Debates over what’s important to happiness — Money? Children? Love? Achievement? — are ancient and universal, but attempts to study the subject empirically are much newer. What have psychologists learned about which factors have a strong effect on people’s happiness and which don’t? Are parents really less happy than non-parents, and do people return to their happiness “set point” even after extreme events like winning the lottery or becoming paralyzed? We also tackle some of the philosophical questions regarding happiness, such as whether some kinds of happiness are “better” than others, and whether people can be mistaken about their own happiness. But, perhaps the hardest question is: can happiness really be measured?

Comment on the episode teaser.

NOTE: Our reply to the accusations made by Jennifer Michael Hecht regarding this episode may be found here.

Reader Comments (13)

We also tackle some of the philosophical questions regarding happiness, such as whether some kinds of happiness are “better” than others, and whether people can be mistaken cheap runescape gold about their own happiness.

June 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersinreal

You are in big trouble now.

June 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Michael Hecht

Your entire show was a summary of my take on these issues. You used my examples, pulled out of the millions upon millions that might have been used -- and in the same order I use them. You parroted my insights, built up over several articles and books, deep research and years of thought. You lifted my cited secondary works, and my choices of what to mention from those sited works. You laid out my tapestry of ideas, insights, research points, based on tremendous labor. If you put the show back up I will sue you. I will win. Also, I will never stop hounding you, within legal bounds, for this horrible insult and waste of my time. This has been a disgusting affront to friendship and academic conversation and I can not imagine how sane people could have perpetrated it. I am trying to excuse you on the basis of youth and perhaps sleepiness, perhaps you have you missed naps for a few months or changed your medication. I am still furious, but if you stop this nonsense now, I will not do anything drastic, at least for the time being. Jennifer

June 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Michael Hecht

Somebody changed her or his medication, but I'm not sure who.

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEric

The reason I am being so harsh and clear is that you have wasted so much of my time already and if you start in again, you will waste even more of my time. Start in again and the waste of time will make me furious and because of that, well within the lines of the law and even good taste, I will be mind-bogglingly unrelenting in response. Fair warning.

Eric, About my line about meds and youth and sleepiness I was trying to be lighthearted and not accuse them (M and J) of malice. I myself am on antidepressants, though they have not changed lately, and that's why i joked about them. It probably wasn't very politic and I apologize. Jennifer

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Michael Hecht

Well, I am complete opposite of pretty much all your points in this podcast, lets see - I'm almost 40, have kids, hardly have any friends nearby, and in addition I'm russian :) Yet my happiness is pretty hight.

I think kids enrich life in immediate time frame, you get unique opportunity to see and explore world through they eyes as they grow, solve conflicts from their point of view. You can try your hand in negotiating techniques when they're mad or run economic experiments. At the very least you can buy them all those toys you always wanted for you self but never got :D There are limitless opportunities to enjoy having kids around.

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVrungel

Massimo, those studies comparing Americans' and Europeans' happiness sounded fascinating. Can you point us in their direction? I'd love to take a look!

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAVN

AVN, luckily for you, the spat with Hecht prompted Massimo to post the episode's transcript and sources, including the one you're asking about.

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEric

I would have liked to hear some examples that contribute to happiness through steady meaningful work. For example music learning and making gives many people happiness. Especially when people get better at it. :) What are some other things. I'm sure all the arts make good examples. What else? Thanks!


June 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLauren Elbaum

The "predictors of happiness" (listed at 36:15) seem fairly reasonable but me (being from Mexico) am surprised that almost none of those, with the exception of a strong network of friends, are actually present in my country (I would argue that they are generally the opposite) and yet I agree with the survey results that most people in my country are very happy, or at least were at the time the survey was carried out. Do you think that, touching on the topic of ignorance, if the majority of people is unaware of these issues then remaining ignorant contributes to a higher level of happiness? Do you have an alternative explanation to Mexico being among the happiest countries in the world? I would love to hear your opinions on the topic.

Just for reference, the predictors listed by Massimo are:
Low unemployment
Low inflation
Low inequality
Strong welfare state
High public spending
Low pollution
High levels of democratic participation
Strong network of friends

Just finished listening to the podcast and the cheap "haute cuisine" dining tip in Julia's pick illustrates the point of high inequality in my country.

August 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLiz

You guys are great, But Massimo forgot to name his pick. Maybe you guys could have a "Rationally Speaking Picks" section in the show notes with links.

Flacking for Big Pharma
"Drugmakers don’t just compromise doctors; they also undermine top medical journals and skew medical research"

January 4, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercapguyman21
I would say Happiness is basically about living your life on your own terms without comparing it to others. If you can do this, you then have Freedom. And to me the more Freedom you have, the more Happy you will be in life.
November 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterErnesto
Having reasonable expectations will increase your happiness enormously.
January 30, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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