Cognition and affect in the overall evaluation of life

Ruut Veenhoven, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Paper presented at the international conference on evaluation and emotions in social cognition. Sopot, Poland, June 1 - 4, 1989

This paper is about the overall appreciation of ones life-as-a-whole, shortly called life satisfaction' or 'happiness'. It tests the common view that this evaluation draws on cognitive comparison rather than on affective experience. The following pieces of evidence to the contrary are presented:
1. Happiness is not more closely linked to perceptions of success in aspirations than to level of affect.
2. Being 'better-off' is not more decisive to happiness than being 'well-off'.
3. Happiness does not tend to be neutral; a positive appreciation of life is the rule.
4. The reasons why one evaluates life positively or negatively are not always evident.

It is concluded that we use two sources of information in evaluating life. Cognitive comparison tells us how well we are doing according to socially constructed standards. Hedonic affect signals the degree to which basic bio-psychological needs are being met.

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