“Happiness is a highly valued matter. Most people agree that it is better to enjoy life than to suffer, and endorse public policies that aim at creating greater happiness for a greater number of people. Though not everybody accepts the utilitarian axiom that happiness is ultimately the only value, the desirability of happiness as such is almost undisputed. This appears in high ranks for happiness in survey studies about value priorities.
The aim of creating greater happiness for a greater number requires understanding of happiness. First of all it demands that we can grasp the main determinants of happiness, not only what makes people happy, but also the reason why. Secondly, we also must have a view on consequences of happiness, in order to detect possible self-destructive effects and to appraise synergy with other values.
Efforts to understand human happiness have absorbed a lot of thought. Happiness was a major issue in early Greek philosophy and several later philosophical schools. Currently the subject gains attention in the social sciences, in particular in Social Indicators Research. Papers on happiness fill many bookshelves.
Philosophical studies of happiness produced a lot of ideas, but little operational knowledge. In fact, it raised more questions than answers. Many theoretical controversies could not be solved by the logic of reasoning alone; usually, empirical validation was not possible.
The advent of the social sciences promised a breakthrough. New methods for empirical research opened the possibility to test theories of happiness and to identify conditions for happiness inductively. This instigated a lot of research. In the last decades some 3500 empirical studies have considered the matter; in the beginning mainly as a side- issue in studies about health and aging, but currently also as a main subject
This stream of research has not yet crystallized into a sound body of knowledge on happiness. Preliminary questions about conceptualization and measurement are now fairly well solved, but the understanding of processes and conditions involved in determinants and consequences of happiness is still very incomplete and tentative. There are several reasons why the new stream of empirical research on happiness has not yet brought the expected break-through. In addition to complexities in the subject matter, there are several practical problems.”