World Database of Happiness, Introduction to Bibliography

Chapter 6

Like any tool, this bibliography has its pros and cons. The user should be aware of that.

Strong points

An advantage of this bibliography is certainly its coverage of the subject. It covers journal articles equally well as current abstract systems do, because it was put together by using these. Relevant books are covered as well as current computerized library catalogues do, because these are scanned as well. The advantage of this bibliography is in the publications that cannot be traced by either of these systems; congress papers, grey reports and barely traceable contributions in readers or chapters in books. More importantly, this bibliography includes some studies that deal with happiness as defined here, but label the subject differently and therefore fail to appear in literature searches on key-word. In other words, this collection is by far the biggest and most exhaustive one on this subject: even though it may still be incomplete.

A related advantage is that this bibliography is not polluted by studies that use terms like happiness or life-satisfaction in its headlines, but actually deal with other matters than the subject delineated here. In other words, this collection is more homogeneous than any other available.

A third advantage of this bibliography is in the subject index. All the other bibliographies are mere lists of publications. The subject matter of scientific journal articles can to some extent be identified by computer scanning of abstracts, but subject matters in books and grey reports cannot. Moreover, the information in abstracts is very limited, in particular in the many articles in which happiness is only a side-issue. In this bibliography the fine-grained subject classification helps to locate much information in separate chapters or paragraphs, that is otherwise untraceable bibliographically. In other words, this is the most informative bibliography on happiness available at this moment.

Lastly the CD-ROM version of this bibliography provides the opportunity of scanning for key-words in titles. The available abstract systems and library catalogues provide the same opportunity for journal articles and books, but not for book-contributions and grey reports.

Weak points

A first thing to admit is that this bibliography is not exhaustive. Its coverage of publications in Dutch, English and German is probably very good. The coverage of Romance languages is probably rather incomplete and the coverage of Oriental languages certainly deficient. I know  there are quite some studies on happiness in Japanese, but I only managed to lay my hands on a few.

A second drawback is that this bibliography tends to be behind on abstract systems and library catalogues. A great deal of this bibliography is filled by these sources and therefore necessarily falls behind.

Thirdly, the subject classification is not ideal. As we have seen above, the classification itself has its blind spots and its application is not free of error and omission.

Lastly, the conceptual clarity of this bibliography has its price. The restriction to 'subjective' appreciation of life involved the elimination of the far broader literature on 'objectivist' conceptions of the good life. Likewise, the restriction to overall evaluation of life-as-a-whole' involves a loss of relevant information. The restriction to 'overall' appreciation of life leaves out studies on various interesting aspect appreciations such as 'meaningfulness', 'security' and 'variedness'. The limitation to 'life-as-a-whole' restricts the view on well researched life domains such as 'work' and 'marriage'. Yet the alternative is more problematic still. Inclusion of all these matters would have resulted in an unsurveyable mass of literature, that would be too heterogeneous to further understanding, and certainly not suitable as a basis for meta-analysis. Like blinkers help horses to find their way in turbulent traffic, this conceptual restriction prevents getting lost in the complexities of well-being.