Do we deserve Happiness?

Do We Deserve Happiness? 

In our group, we investigated the question: do people deserve to be happy? Many interesting discussions were held by us to get a fuller grasp on this question. While doing this, an even wider variety of questions came up where we did not find straight answers to. Does everyone deserve happiness? Can one then also lose this right to happiness? Who then should provide this happiness? And, what does ‘deserving’ actually mean here?

The corona crisis influenced many peoples’ happiness, in terms of anxiety, the loss of a beloved one, or because of less social interaction and the restrictions of our freedom. This crisis might have made people more aware of what influences their happiness, and what they need in order to be happy. Are people willing to sacrifice their own happiness (by staying at home), for more collective happiness (minimizing the risk for transmission)? To investigate this, a questionnaire was administered by us at the end of April, asking questions related to deserving happiness, especially now in times of the corona crisis. 

For this project, we would like to administer the same questionnaire again now that the corona measures are less strict. By filling in the poll on this website, you will be able to compare the results of both questionnaires to see whether the answers have changed. Before reviewing your answers, you can also see what predictions we made based on the first questionnaire. 

In the end, we will give a conclusion on our question of this year’s Winter School. We hope you will enjoy visiting our webpage, and that it will influence your happiness positively!

Please complete this questionnaire before reading on:

 

I take/ took care of maintaining distance in public space to avoid putting others at risk

I met (/ I am still meeting) my friends on a regular basis

Sometimes I engage in activities that are not 100% compliant with the current regulations and recommendations of my country

I feel like I should still have the option to follow my profession even though I cannot be 100% sure whether I can meet the required hygienic standards or not

I feel like the restrictions imposed by the government in my country are too strict

the right to happiness? There is a higher power that decides who deserves happiness and who does not (e.g. a god, social norms and values, the government)

There is a higher power that decides who deserves happiness and who does not (e.g. a god, social norms and values, the government)

Those who follow the corona-measures should be granted more governmental aid than those who do not

Where is happiness derived from: Is the right to happiness given or pursued

Where is happiness derived from: engaging in the act itself or the freedom to pursue it?: I feel less joy because my happiness is partially determined by my income, my wealth and my profession, and all of these are currently restricted due to the Covid-19 pandemic

Where is happiness derived from: engaging in the act itself or the freedom to pursue it?: I feel less joy because I am afraid I cannot follow my plans, dreams, and aspirations due to the Covid-19 pandemic

Our Summary on the Research Findings of April 

What weights more: Collective or individual happiness? 

The first question we asked concerned the degree to which respondents value their own happiness over the happiness of society as a collective. This is especially relevant now, as in the midst of the corona-crisis, demonstrating social courage and acknowledging individual responsibility for one’s own actions is needed to facilitate a timely recovery, both with regards to health and the economy. Therefore, we asked whether the people were still seeing their friends on a regular basis, which constitutes a proxy for their prioritization of their personal social needs above practicing sensible social distancing. On a scale from one to five, five meaning no changes in the frequency of socializing with others and one meaning engaging in no social interaction with others, 60% picked the options 3 to 5, whereas only 40% went for options 1 and 2. Overall, this lends support for the notion that the majority of our respondents were not willing to sacrifice their individual social routines for rules aimed at flattening the curve. It was pointed out by previous research that the act to engage in prosocial behavior is, in general, determined by the conscious weighing of pros and cons (Piliavin et al, 1981). This decision-making process is driven by internally formed, implicit theories of civil courage that usually differ greatly between individuals (Greitemeyer et al, 2006). That may in part account for the variety of compliance levels, both in our sample and also what is observed on a national and international level. 

Additionally, we asked our respondents to rate their adherence to the current regulations and recommendations of their country, and as one specific example of that, we asked for their compliance with maintaining social distance in public space. The vast majority (>90%) picked options 4 and 5 for keeping distance, yet 30% of the respondents stated that they do not always follow the national recommendations. This suggests that the willingness to act responsibly for the sake of collective well-being is high when the behavior is rather simple, such as maintaining distance in public. However, this may well be in contrast to behaviors requiring drastic personal cut-offs, as for example not being able to interact with close friends. 

 

Who gives you the right to happiness?

This question was at the center of our discussions. Is it a right everyone inherently possesses? And if it is granted to everyone, can anyone persist on its fulfilment or claim it? The debate about this has started in Plato’s and Aristotle’s ancient times and experienced denial during middle age. The idea of the right to happiness then followed Napoleon across Europe and became manifested in American liberty and Soviet history. Very lately, a highly infectious virus demanded us to trade the individual well-being against the common good of containing the virus outspread (McMahon, 2013).

Socrates is supposed to have said, “That, if ever, is the moment … when life is worth living“. From his perspective human beings do not only have the right to pursue happiness but rather an obligation to pursue it. In the words of Aristotle: “[…] the human activity that is most akin to the gods’ will, more than any other, have the character of Happiness”, and for Aristotle all humans are longing to be god-like. Thus, happiness does not come to us from external forces but is rather a function of our own will. Yet, Plato was concerned that the average human being was never able to find happiness himself. Therefore, in the Republic, he claims that it demands a strong, authoritarian philosopher who devotes himself to the study of truth, wisdom, and justice to concede the people the pursuit of happiness (McMahon, 2010).

Overcoming the daunting life during medieval Christian societies, Rousseau introduced the notion of “Happiness leaves us, or we leave it”. This is following the notion that happiness entails that everyone is responsible for his own pursuit of happiness and thereby contributes to the society’s progress in civilization (Darnton, 1995). Therefore, Rousseau’s notion of happiness motivated the French constitution of 1793 where it says, “The goal of the society is common happiness”  (McMahon, 2008).

Further down the line of history, there existed famous and infamous beliefs around the right of happiness. The American one believes that all men are created equal and are endowed with the right to “[…] life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” but dismissed the idea of the French revolution that common happiness might be equally desirable (Darnton, 1995). But as Benjamin Franklin pointed out, “it only gives you the right to pursue happiness, you have to catch it yourself” (McMahon, 2010). Furthermore, the american declaration of independence derived its notion from Locke’s right to “life, liberty and property”. There what a right to pursue happiness actually means, what does the declaration imply for those, who do not own any property at first place?

Alternatively, Engels offered the idea that “every individual strives to be happy […] the happiness of the individuals is inseparable from the happiness of all” (McMahon, 2010). Consequently the happiness of the masses should be secured by the “ideals of communism”.

We attempted to measure today’s society’s view on the question whether one deserves the right to be happy, in particular now during the corona crisis. Economic research suggests that GDP growth has a positive effect on happiness and it declines in economic recessions (Tella et. al, 2018). But their research shows also that a generous welfare system might mitigate the adverse effect on the individuals well-being. Therefore, we would predict that during a recession respondents would rather say that not only responsible themselves for their own happiness but some responsibility is shared with a government or state. Futhermore, we widened the scope of the question who gives the right to happiness by allowing for answers such as “higher force or a god”, social norms and values, or the central government.

From the results of our poll, we see that the majority does not believe in such powers. Thus, for them pursuing happiness seems to be much of a personal freedom and responsibility. Likewise, the majority of our respondents did not agree with the government providing the means to achieve happiness. Even in the midst of the current economic and social crisis our respondents did not reject the notion that happiness is ultimately a personal freedom to pursue but not a right to be obtained. Thus, an interesting parallel can be observed to Rousseau, who developed the notion of a private responsibility to achieve happiness in the aftermath of the Lisbon earthquake, a natural disaster which killed several thousands of people.

 

Does everyone deserve happiness? (and is the right to happiness given or pursued?) 

The third question we explored was about whether happiness should be thought of as a human right and as something that is given or, if happiness was more of an individual journey;  something that cannot be achieved without constantly being sought and searched for. In addition, we set out to answer the question of whether happiness, if it could be provided, should be universal. This was important to explore with the recent coronavirus “rescue packages” that provided aid to companies and people. In a broader sense, these questions aimed to also determine the importance of eudaimonic versus hedonic happiness. Eudaimonic happiness refers to a deeper sense of happiness that is said to come from things like self-realisation while hedonic happiness is a rather momentary pleasure in comparison which is derived from avoiding hardship and maximising pleasurable moments (Ryan & Deci, 2000). 

The answers of the respondents hinted at the subconscious choice of the respondents between short- and long-term happiness by demonstrating whether or not the subjects had the long term implications of this aid in mind or whether they simply wanted to help those suffering now. Moreover, examining the responses to these questions during the pandemic should give us an excellent opportunity to better understand the effects of environmental factors and their influence on the perceived source of happiness whether that be something that the government can assist on or an individual pursuit. 

 

 

Overwhelmingly, the respondents agreed that those who do more to follow the measures, deserve more with most expressing medium to strong agreement with hardly any believing that everyone deserves the same level of aid. As for the question of whether it was the government’s job to ensure happiness in the first place, the respondents disagreed. The conclusions we can draw from this is that happiness is the choice of the individual and those who contribute more should deserve more. Thus, happiness should not be given, but instead pursued but a stronger willingness to help those who do pursue it exists. 

If everyone deserves happiness, is this then for everyone in the same amounts? And what if maximizing one’s own happiness is only possible when the happiness of others is reduced? Or does the deserving of happiness change when someone commits a crime? These are questions that come up when thinking about whether everyone deserves happiness. 

There are experts in the field of happiness who believe that people’s happiness level is an inborn trait (Stearns, 2012). This would imply that happiness and being happy might have nothing to do with deserving it, but is rather hard-wired in our genetic code. It is interesting to look at different views and perceptions of happiness throughout history. It was argued that the attitudes that people hold towards happiness change over their lives (Stearns, 2012). Never before were there so many people who believed that they should be happy, and that it is a right they naturally have (McMahon, 2008). The idea of happiness as a natural state of being is a fairly recent way of thinking (McMahon, 2008). Before the 18th century, a saddened approach to life was encouraged in the West (Stearns, 2012). According to McMahon (2008), in the Enlightenment period (seventeenth century) there were for the first time large numbers of people who believed that they could expect joy during their lives, instead of suffering.

The third question we explored was about whether happiness should be thought of as a human right and as something that is given or, if happiness was more of an individual journey;  something that cannot be achieved without constantly being sought and searched for. In addition, we set out to answer the question of whether happiness, if it could be provided, should be universal. This was important to explore with the recent coronavirus “rescue packages” that provided aid to companies and people. In a broader sense, these questions aimed to also determine the importance of eudaimonic versus hedonic happiness. Eudaimonic happiness refers to a deeper sense of happiness that is said to come from things like self-realisation while hedonic happiness is a rather momentary pleasure in comparison which is derived from avoiding hardship and maximising pleasurable moments (Ryan & Deci, 2001). 

 

The answers of the respondents hinted at the subconscious choice of the respondents between short- and long-term happiness by demonstrating whether or not the subjects had the long term implications of this aid in mind or whether they simply wanted to help those suffering now. Moreover, examining the responses to these questions during the pandemic should give us an excellent opportunity to better understand the effects of environmental factors and their influence on the perceived source of happiness whether that be something that the government can assist on or an individual pursuit. In order to gain this insight we asked the respondents to rate their level of agreement with the following statements: “Those who follow the corona-measures should be granted more governmental aid than those who do not” and “I think that it’s the role of the government to provide the means by which I can be happy.” 

 

Overwhelmingly, the respondents agreed that those who do more to follow the measures, deserve more with most expressing medium to strong agreement with hardly any believing that everyone deserves the same level of aid. As for the question of whether it was the government’s job to ensure happiness in the first place, the respondents disagreed. The conclusions we can draw from this is that happiness is the choice of the individual and those who contribute more should deserve more. Thus, happiness should not be given, but instead pursued but a stronger willingness to help those who do pursue it exists. 

 

There are experts in the field of happiness who believe that people’s happiness level is an inborn trait (Stearns, 2012). This would imply that happiness and being happy might have nothing to do with deserving it, but is rather hard-wired in our genetic code. It is interesting to look at different views and perceptions of happiness throughout history. It was argued that the attitudes that people hold towards happiness change over their lives (Stearns, 2012). Never before were there so many people who believed that they should be happy, and that it is a right they naturally have (McMahon, 2008). The idea of happiness as a natural state of being is a fairly recent way of thinking (McMahon, 2008). Before the 18th century, a saddened approach to life was encouraged in the West (Stearns, 2012). According to McMahon (2008), in the Enlightenment period (seventeenth century) there were for the first time large numbers of people who believed that they could expect joy during their lives, instead of suffering. 

 

Does everyone deserve happiness? (and is the right to happiness given or pursued?)

 

The third question we explored was about whether happiness should be thought of as a human right and as something that is given or, if happiness was more of an individual journey;  something that cannot be achieved without constantly being sought and searched for. In addition, we set out to answer the question of whether happiness, if it could be provided, should be universal. This was important to explore with the recent coronavirus “rescue packages” that provided aid to companies and people. In a broader sense, these questions aimed to also determine the importance of eudaimonic versus hedonic happiness. Eudaimonic happiness refers to a deeper sense of happiness that is said to come from things like self-realisation while hedonic happiness is a rather momentary pleasure in comparison which is derived from avoiding hardship and maximising pleasurable moments (Ryan & Deci, 2001). 

 

The answers of the respondents hinted at the subconscious choice of the respondents between short- and long-term happiness by demonstrating whether or not the subjects had the long term implications of this aid in mind or whether they simply wanted to help those suffering now. Moreover, examining the responses to these questions during the pandemic should give us an excellent opportunity to better understand the effects of environmental factors and their influence on the perceived source of happiness whether that be something that the government can assist on or an individual pursuit. In order to gain this insight we asked the respondents to rate their level of agreement with the following statements: “Those who follow the corona-measures should be granted more governmental aid than those who do not” and “I think that it’s the role of the government to provide the means by which I can be happy.” 

 

Overwhelmingly, the respondents agreed that those who do more to follow the measures, deserve more with most expressing medium to strong agreement with hardly any believing that everyone deserves the same level of aid. As for the question of whether it was the government’s job to ensure happiness in the first place, the respondents disagreed. The conclusions we can draw from this is that happiness is the choice of the individual and those who contribute more should deserve more. Thus, happiness should not be given, but instead pursued but a stronger willingness to help those who do pursue it exists. 

There are experts in the field of happiness who believe that people’s happiness level is an inborn trait (Stearns, 2012). This would imply that happiness and being happy might have nothing to do with deserving it, but is rather hard-wired in our genetic code. It is interesting to look at different views and perceptions of happiness throughout history. It was argued that the attitudes that people hold towards happiness change over their lives (Stearns, 2012). Never before were there so many people who believed that they should be happy, and that it is a right they naturally have (McMahon, 2008). The idea of happiness as a natural state of being is a fairly recent way of thinking (McMahon, 2008). Before the 18th century, a saddened approach to life was encouraged in the West (Stearns, 2012). According to McMahon (2008), in the Enlightenment period (seventeenth century) there were for the first time large numbers of people who believed that they could expect joy during their lives, instead of suffering.  

What brings more happiness: engaging in an act itself or the freedom to pursue the act? 

The last factor we sought to investigate was whether the restrictions on movement generated unhappiness. In the event that this was the case, we wished to determine the reason for this unhappiness; whether that be the mental effect of the restriction or the inability to pursue hedonic pleasures. The statements we provided in this regard aimed to obtain an answer as to whether the loss in happiness came as a direct result of the pandemic and fear or through the loss of possibilities and freedoms.

In previous studies on the correlation between various freedoms and happiness, a fairly prevalent correlation was noted (Diener & Suh, 2001). Overall, this suggests that even when not pursued, the freedom to pursue an option may already bring happiness. In line with these findings, we expected that the respondents would on average feel less joy as a consequence of the restrictions. Thus, the mere existence of a limitation, no matter if it is a true restriction or just a theoretical one should decrease feelings of happiness. The decrease in happiness should therefore not only be limited to actual restrictions, such as the prevention of going to work, but should also exist when considering activities that are prohibited but have not played an active role in the respondents life before. 

Despite the prediction, there was a clear difference in responses between the two questions. As shown above, the respondents were clearly more affected by the real limitations with almost 40% indicating strongly that the limitations on their actual lives decreased their levels of joy. On the contrary, none of the respondents gave the same response for the mere existence of the restrictions; furthermore, most respondents suggested that this had little to no effect. Nonetheless, 30% still indicated themselves having a decrease in happiness showing that there is some effect, albeit in a limited way.

Predictions of the Live Poll Results 

In the following, you can have a look at what we predicted to change from our initial poll to the live poll that you just filled in. 

In the questionnaire, we asked whether those who follow the corona measures should be granted more governmental help than those who do not. After having to deal with the corona measures for months, people might get frustrated as they follow the prescriptions very neatly, but still have to face a large economic impact. This might feel unfair. After a few months, this economic insecurity can become larger, and the feeling of unfairness stronger. If this is the case, then people might agree more with this statement then they did in the end of April/beginning of May.

However, we do not expect a large change in the results, as agreeing or disagreeing with this statement is a matter of people’s general view on society, which we think is quite stable and probably not much influenced by the corona measures. Furthermore, we would predict that, as the governmental regulations have decreased in rigour, people will also take the measures and regulations less seriously. This may be explained by a modelling effect, where the implicit message the government sends by reducing their security measures reflect upon people’s behaviours and attitudes regarding the seriousness of the crisis. Thus, we predict that the results of the live poll will show that people meet up with their friends more regularly and take less care of maintaining distance in public space than they did in the first questionnaire. However, concerning respondents’ compliance with governmental rules, we do not expect the results to be very different from the first questionnaire, as the amount of rules that the public is obliged to follow has decreased over the past month, thus requiring less self-discipline and personal cut-backs.

This should also be reflected in issues like who is deserving happiness and whether it is the government’s duty to provide it. As with progression of time, the crisis establishes itself as the new status quo, there should be less animosity towards those who did not follow the instructions provided. As for the responses for whether it is the government’s duty to ensure happiness, a shift even further away from this is likely because the concrete, external reason for the lack of wellbeing will become more distant and individual responsibility will regain traction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Conclusion

The leading question of this project was whether we as humans deserve happiness. Finding an answer to that question is difficult, and this is not merely because, in essence, this comes down to a philosophical discussion. Primarily, no clear answer can be given because different people hold different views and there is no universal standard against which these views can be compared. Providing an insight into what some of these views are, it became apparent that our respondents do not think that everyone deserves happiness to the same degree. This was evidenced by their view that those who follow the governmental regulations during the Covid-19 crisis should be granted more governmental resources (which eventually help you do the things that make you happy) than those who do not. Also, it is interesting that the majority of participants did not think that the government is the institution responsible for providing the means by which one can be happy. Therefore, the predominant view seemed to be that we earn the right to be happy by acting in ways that benefit society, however, we are individually responsible for realizing our potential for happiness. 

 

By: Nina Frohn, Vihtori Jarvinen, Alexander Marx, Charlotte Oosterhuis

 

References 

Diener, E., Suh, E.M. (2000). Culture and Subjective Well-being. The MIT Press, 9-41.

Greitemeyer, T., Fischer, P., Kastenmüller, A., & Frey, D. (2006). Civil courage and helping behavior: Differences and similarities. European Psychologist, 11(2), 90-98.

McMahon, D.M. (2008). The Pursuit of Happiness in History. In M. Eid and R.J. Larsen, The science of subjective well-being, pp.80-93. Guilford Press.

McMahon, D.M. (2010). What does the ideal of happiness mean? Social Research: An International Quarterly, 77(2), 469-490.

Piliavin, J.A., Dovidio, J.F., Gaertner, S.L., & Clark, R.D. Ill (1981). Emergency intervention. New York: Academic Press.

Ryan R.M., Deci E.L. (2001). On happiness and human potentials: a review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Annual Review of Psychology, 52(1), 141‐166.

Stearns, P.N. (2012). The History of Happiness. Harvard Business Review, 90(1-2), 104-109.