A reply to Stones

Ruut Veenhoven
Social Indicators Research, 1998, vol 43, pp 211-225

Rejoinder to reaction by Stones (SIR 36) on Veenhoven's "Is happiness a trait?" (SIR 32). It is argued that the criticism pertains to another issue, another concept of happiness and another notion of trait.
The initial question was whether a better society breeds happier people, and concerned fixedness of the 'absolute' happiness-level. The criticism is about permanence in 'relative' happiness-rank. These are different things: constancy in happiness-ranks in a population does not imply that average happiness-level remains the same.
The question concerned happiness in the sense of life-satisfaction. The critics conceive happiness as a broader 'personality' syndrome. Personality may be fairly invariant, but the question was whether life-satisfaction is.
The initial notion of happiness 'trait' was quite specific, and concerned a disposition to judge life positively or negatively. The critics refer to 'trait' as continuity in all personal characteristics, including health. Again that is an other matter, with different implications for the question at stake.
The criticism is framed in notions of psychological personality research. That approach may bear relevance for the question whether differences in happiness can be reduced. Yet it is not appropriate for answering the question at stake: that is, whether it is possible to raise the average level of happiness.

Full text