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Summary Imperfecly Happy

This thesis is inspired by the utilitarian ideology that seeks the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers and tries to add to this cause considering three questions: 1) What is the quality of popular happiness advice? 2) Is unhappiness concentrated in people with mental disorders? 3) Does the pursuit of happiness cover all ground?

Happiness advice

What do philosophical and psychological self-help books recommend for leading a happy life and how well does this fit with research findings on conditions for happiness? An analysis of 57 psychological best-selling self-help books in the Netherlands shows that most deal with topics that are well correlated with happiness.

This means that there is ground to expect positive outcomes, but some works offer recommendations that do not fit research results and are therefore likely to be counterproductive. Empirical studies show that self-help materials can relieve specific psychological problems, but there are no data confirming the effectiveness of popular advice for a happier life in general.

Happiness of people with mental disorder

How much priority deserves mental health care in the pursuit of greater happiness? Analysis of a large scale panel study in the Netherlands shows that most of the unhappiest people have a mental disorder, and from an utilitarian viewpoint, raising the happiness of these people deserves priority. But not all people with mental disorders are unhappy. Most people with mental disorders feel happy at least often, in particular people diagnosed as having a substance abuse disorder or an anxiety disorder. This does not seem not to be due to distorted appraisal of happiness.

Wisdom and negative affect

Several critics of utilitarianism deem ‘wisdom’ higher than happiness. Is there a conflict between these values as the stereotype of ‘Happy Hans’ suggests? Analysis of large scale survey shows that wisdom and happiness are positively correlated. Yet the overlap between the two is so modest that the entities are largely independent.

Some adherents of utilitarianism focus on eliminating negative experiences all together. Transhumanists ponder on redesigning the human organism that will give rise to ‘more varied experience, lifelong happiness and exhilarating peak experiences everyday’. Likewise, positive psychologists focus on maximizing positive experiences through learning. It is argued that negative emotions serve a critical function in our lives, and will enable us to stay focused on the parts of reality that are necessary for optimal functioning.

 
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