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Happiness is the frequency, not the intensity, of positive versus negative affect

Economics, Psychology, wellbeing


In this chapter we suggest that “happiness,” or high subjective wellbeing, is more strongly associated with the frequency and duration of people’s positive feelings, not with the intensity of those feelings. People who rarely or never feel euphoria, for instance, can nonetheless report very high levels of well-being. We hypothesize that there are several reasons that subjective well-being is more strongly associated with the amount of time people feel positive versus negative feelings rather than with the intensity of their positive feelings. Intense positive feelings often have costs, including a tendency to more intense negative feelings in negative situations. Another hypothesis is that it is more difficult to accurately measure the intensity of feelings than their time-course, and this makes the amount of time people feel positive more amenable to study with self-report methods. The intensity of people’s positive emotions should not be ignored, but should be studied in combination with the time-course (frequency and duration) of positive and negative feelings.

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