Subjective Well-Being and Kahneman's ‘Objective Happiness’

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This paper is an attempt to clarify the relation between, on the one hand, the construct of ‘objective happiness’ recently proposed by Daniel Kahneman and, on the other hand, the principal focus of happiness studies, namely subjective well-being (SWB). I have two aims. The first, a critical one, is to give a theoretical explanation for why ‘objective happiness’ cannot be a general measure of SWB. Kahneman's methodology precludes incorporation of relevant pieces of information that can become available to the subject only retrospectively. The second aim, a constructive one, is to clarify the exact connection between ‘objective happiness’ and the wider notion of SWB. Unlike Kahneman, who treats the notion as a useful first approximation, I propose that its applicability should be thought of as context-dependent: under some conditions it could be the right measure of SWB but what these conditions are involves both psychological and ethical considerations.

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