World Database of Happiness, Introduction to Bibliography

Chapter 1

Happiness is a highly valued concept in present day Western society. Not only does everybody agree that it is better to be happy than unhappy, but studies on values show that present day people prioritize happiness. A happy life is typically considered more valuable than social prestige or material affluence. Happiness for everybody even outranks cherished social goals such as 'peace' and 'equality'. This is not to say that happiness is considered the only and ultimate goal. Utilitarianism is in fact seldom practiced. We typically seek ways to optimize happiness and other valued matters: for instance to make life more rewarding without doing injustice to others or to fall into empty hedonism. Such optimal mixes are pursued individually in private life styles, as well as collectively in public policy.

Rational pursuit of happiness requires understanding of its nature and determinants. Atuning with other valued matters also requires insight into consequences of happiness. These matters have been given much thought, which has crystallized in a vast literature on happiness. The greater and eldest part of this literature concerns advice on matters of living and is based on worldly wisdom and ideological conviction. In this tradition the receipt is typically more prominent than its deduction. The smaller and newer part of the literature consists of more analytic attempts to gain understanding by use of modern scientific concepts and research methods.

The classic moralist literature on happiness is rather easy to survey. It is well documented in various reference works and bibliographies. See subject category 16 (philosophy of happiness) of this bibliography. The modern scientific literature on happiness is not easy to assess. It is more recent and less crystallized. Also it is less completely documented. Much of the modern scientific writing on happiness is scattered over different disciplines and not very visible in the ever growing mass of scientific publications. Even worse, happiness is often a side-subject in research and therefore not mentioned in the titles or abstracts of reports. Much valuable information is lost in this way.

Poor accessibility of the literature seriously impedes progress in the understanding of happiness. It causes a lot of repitition of work and it hinders cumulation of knowledge in this field. This bibliography is meant to improve that situation. IIt provides a fairly complete overview of publications on happiness. The collections of research findings on happiness in this database draw on these publications.