Happiness, Pleasure, and Judgment: The Contextual Theory and Its Applications

1st Edition

Allen Parducci

Psychology Press
Published September 1, 1995
Reference - 240 Pages
ISBN 9780805818918 - CAT# ER3713

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Summary

What makes a life happy? The essential idea of this book is that the happy life is one in which the best of whatever is experienced comes relatively often, regardless of how good that best might be. It matters little whether one is rich or poor, successful or unsuccessful, beautiful or plain: happiness is completely relative, in the sense that the pleasantness of any particular experience depends on its relationship to a context of other experiences, real or imagined.

Presenting the first formal, predictive theory of happiness, this volume explains its foundations in experimental research on judgment, and explores its practical implications. Based on principles of judgment developed in psychophysical research, this theory applies these principles to explain hedonic experiences in real-life situations. The work is thus a mixture of basic experimental science and speculative applications to the imaginary experiences central to happiness.

Pleasures are dimensional judgments which, like all such judgments, depend on their contexts of related experiences. The pleasantness of any experience, real or imaginary, is determined by how it stacks up against other experiences ordered by preference. Because of this relational emphasis, the contextual theory entails maximizations of pleasure very different from those described by conventional applications of utility theories.

This is illustrated by a computerized happiness game in which players try to maximize the pleasures experienced in contexts established by their own choices. Players tend to get worse with practice, reflecting how immediate pleasures that extend the context upward can reduce the pleasantness of other, more frequent experiences. Computer simulations demonstrate the consequences of different assumptions regarding how hedonic contexts are established and changed.

Primarily written for those curious about the conditions for happiness, this book will also find an audience with readers stimulated by the laboratory research on the relational character of judgment and of pleasure and pain. Readers may also feel encouraged to examine and further articulate their own ideas about happiness.

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