Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2020-21/Evidence in Quantifying Happiness

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Ikigai And Dimensions For A Balanced Life

Modern ideas of what happiness is tend towards defining "purpose" in one's life. The Japanese, for example, quantify happiness through their idea of Ikigai – focusing on four main areas of your life,[1] which can be superimposed onto four academic disciplines. (Note that "well-being" is different to happiness, which forms a part of overall well-being.)

This Wikibook chapter will explore how evidence is used to quantify happiness from different disciplinary perspectives, spanning Economics, Neuroscience, Psychology and Anthropology, specifically focusing on happiness in the workplace. It will also explore the tensions that arise between these disciplinary perspectives, demonstrating how the question of which evidence is used to quantify happiness becomes an interdisciplinary question.

Quantifying Evidence – Disciplinary Perspectives[edit]


A Survey Method for Characterizing Daily Life Experience: The Day Reconstruction Method

The economics of happiness is an emerging branch of the economy. It differs from welfare economics in that it does not base its analyses on objective and general considerations (health, education, the environment as a few examples) but on what is commonly known as happiness.[2] It is therefore the quantitative and theoretical study of happiness. The economy of happiness finds its source in the 18th century Utilitarianism philosophy of Jeremy Bentham.[3] Nevertheless, this branch developed significantly in the 20th century with the creation of the internet, surveys, self-assessment scales and measurement tools such as the Day Reconstructing Method (DRM),[4] the Experience Sampling Method (ESM), the Gross National Happiness (GNH) or The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

In his 2018 book, "Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress",[5] Stephen Pinker discounted the Easterlin Paradox, the idea that money can buy happiness,[6] through the psychological theory of the Hedonic Treadmill, the idea that we have a baseline of happiness.[7] The theory long believed by economists is that the higher the GDP, the higher the happiness of the nation; therefore the higher the income, the higher the level of personal and therefore workplace happiness.[5] However, this has been disproved by empirical studies showing that happiness levels increase with incomes up to $75,000, after which happiness levels begin to increase much more slowly.[8] These numerical methods and scales demonstrate the quantitative and empirical approach that economists take to quantifying happiness.


Neuroscientific studies have been conducted into workplace happiness, demonstrating the interactions of neurotransmitters, neurochemicals and hormones and the impact these facts can have on happiness levels.[9]

Recent research by neuroeconomist Paul Zak has found that an increased level of the hormone and neurotransmitter oxytocin leads to an increased level of trust, efficiency, productivity and therefore improved business outcomes, in turn resulting in higher levels of happiness.[10] This research used blood samples to measure chemical levels of oxytocin in the blood of participants before and after social interactions of varying levels of trust. Chemical blood levels are therefore an example of empirical evidence being used to quantify workplace happiness.

Another heavily researched neurotransmitter involved in workplace happiness is dopamine.[11] According to research, higher levels of dopamine in the brain have been linked to higher levels of workplace motivation.[12] Low levels of motivation are linked to psychiatric disorders such as depression, and therefore higher levels of motivation have been correlated with higher levels of workplace happiness.[12] The evidence is, like for oxytocin, empirical, using positron emission tomography (PET scanning) to map, analyse and quantify the levels of neurotransmitters in different parts of the brain.[13] The levels of both of these neurotransmitters can therefore be used as evidence in quantifying workplace happiness.

Modern research into neurological disorders suggests that keeping our brains busy can help to fend off diseases such as Dementia or Alzheimer's.[14] In the search for a meaningful life, we might experience periods of happiness, but without the active use of the brain, the risk of contracting these non-communicable diseases in later adulthood becomes much higher. To this end, encouraging life-long learning could prove to be beneficial, both through workplace advancement and academic study. As our life expectancy increases, containing to actively use the brain becomes even more critical, as does the importance of leading active and healthy lifestyles. Currently, many people spend the last fifteen years of their lives with some vulnerability.[15]

Happiness pie chart with percentages, based on the Happiness formula of Lyubomirsky, Shkade, Sheldon and Seligman.


Twin studies in genetic psychology have shown that 35-50% of our happiness levels can be accounted for through genetic factors.[16] This has disproved the Freudian psychology theory that happiness in childhood correlates with happiness in adulthood.[17] Modern Positive Psychologists Lyubomirsky, Seligman, Sheldon and Shkade established the Happiness Formula of H = C + V + S, C being conditions of your life, V being Volunteering that you do/daily choices you make and S being your biological set point.[18] showing the shift from qualitative to quantitative data in a discipline over time, and a change in theories.

What we do know is that having a certain level of autonomy in our lives increases our sense of wellbeing and happiness. Even if you do not earn a lot of money, feeling good in your job, together with an absence of coercion can make you feel happy.[19] Being valued in the work place adds to long term happiness and health of individuals where personal responsibility, decision-making, levels of control all contribute to our overall sense of achievement and happiness; that we are worthy, have a feeling of self-worth and value, relating back to the economist's view of Utility.

With the advent of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy we have learned that questions such as "What's the worst that could happen?" and "Has it ever happened?" have helped us not to catastrophise. Once you realise that the worst is OK, you can build resilience, positivity and mental fortitude, and thus our degrees of happiness. We are happier psychologically when we are fit, healthy, loved, safe, comfortable, socially connected (not lonely) and we know how to achieve these prerequisites which release endorphins - making us feel happier.

The ancient tradition of Meditation shows a strong correlation with a more positive mindset and is psychologically beneficial to us. In the Buddhist tradition, the practice of Tonglen helps one to make peace with others and trauma. It calms our brains from gloominess. A simple exercise of sitting with the eyes closed, focusing on one person or issue that bothers you, and breathing in the pain from that and breathing out loving kindness. Repeating this for even ten minutes per day has multiple benefits within both a workplace or home setting.


Cultural, societal and geographical definitions of happiness hold the same fundamental truths (for example, what the Japanese call 'Ikigai', the Danish 'Hygge'). Structural functionalist and sociologist Emile Durkheim looked at how society functions and how the individual sits within society. He theorised that Capitalism was an economic system driving people to suicide. He influenced many anthropological approaches and found that capitalism led to isolationism in five areas: Individualism; Excessive Hope; Too much freedom; Atheism; The weakening of the nation and the family. In this sense, anthropology has been a cultural critique of economics and the tensions between what's best for humans and what's best for the state.


Different disciplines approach evidence in different ways, which creates incongruity in what constitutes evidence and how evidence is defined. This creates tensions between different disciplines, in this case when it comes to quantifying workplace happiness.

Tension can arise between the qualitative vs quantitative nature of separate disciplines, as seen between economics and anthropology, but tensions can also arise within a discipline itself. This can be seen within psychology, with the conflict between the empirical evidence used in genetic psychology and qualitative observational evidence used in Freudian theory. This tension within psychology leads to tensions between psychology and other disciplines as a consequence, taking economics as an example. The evidence used to quantify happiness in economics is largely quantitative, using mathematical models to predict behaviour and focusing on happiness as the ultimate outcome of such behaviour.[20]

In psychology however, although both quantitative and qualitative evidence forms are used, the focus is on the reasons for and context of workplace happiness, with more emphasis on the process rather than the outcome.[21] Psychologists typically use more subjective forms of data, such as surveys,[20] which is in stark contrast to the empirical data collected by economists. The evidence in the respective disciplines is formed by employing different research methods, leading to disharmony and misunderstanding between the two disciplines.[20] The disharmony is what ultimately leads to an unwillingness to collaborate and communicate, strengthening the divide between the disciplines and perpetuating the interdisciplinary tension further.


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