Research Example #4: Is Happiness Relative?

Is Happiness Relative? An intriguing title to the research by Ruut Veenhoven, published in Social Indicators Research 24, 1-34. In this article Veenhoven, the researcher, explores life-satisfaction and how it is influenced by the circumstances of others. As stated in the title, the research asks and answers the question: is happiness relative?

The data that was used to answer this question were reports of behavior obtained from previously conducted research. Those data were derived from surveys. The method of data analysis used in this study was correlation. Happiness and other factors that may contribute to it were analyzed to see if there were relationships between them to determine if the theory is correct.

The researcher addresses the theory that happiness is relative. The theory, summed up, states that how one’s satisfaction of life results from comparison, standards for the comparison change, and that they are arbitrarily constructed. Veenhoven tested for correlation between the data for happiness (obtained from other research) and variables such as wealth and income. For further analysis, he also evaluated happiness of other countries and evaluated as such. The results of the research was the theory is true but limited in its truthfulness. “Standards of comparison do not fully adjust to circumstances,” was explained in the article. Contrary to previous belief, most people report having a happy life as opposed to neutral. Most importantly, happiness being relative does not hold up in the state of hunger, danger, and isolation, regardless if other people are in worse positions.

For my evaluation of this research, I did not expect much from an outdated research. However, I still found it insightful. I am curious to what modern studies of happiness being relative provides. The approach of the research was well done; many concepts were addressed and evidence, as well as counter evidence, was constructively evaluated.