The Science of Happiness: As Felicitous as It Is Fallacious

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Abstract

The supposed science of happiness appropriated by positive psychology (PP) is reviewed on its own scientific empirical and theoretical basis. It begins by showing that even its best formulations, such as Lyubomirsky’s positive-activity model and Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory probably are, consist more than anything else of common sense tautologies, in the best of cases, not a great science. The problem is identified as the inadequacy of happiness as the object of a natural science, supposedly universal, disinterested, and value-free. Perhaps the authentic science of happiness would be found in a hermeneutic approach, certainly, more humble than PP, but more appropriate. The question arises of whether there are better things in life than the pursuit of happiness, for example, living a significant, valuable life, which is not necessarily happy. Meanwhile, a happy life may not be meaningful or valuable. Indeed, there are people and cultures in which happiness is feared. Finally, it raises the question of what happened on the way from Plato to Prozac for happiness to have become such a scientific, political, and popular topic, and why, in spite of everything, PP is so successful.

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