Daniel M. Haybron (an associate professor of philosophy at St. Louis University):
What does it mean to be happy?
The answer to this question once seemed obvious to me. To be happy is to be satisfied with your life. If you want to find out how happy someone is, you ask him a question like, “Taking all things together, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole?”
Over the past 30 years or so, as the field of happiness studies has emerged from social psychology, economics and other disciplines, many researchers have had the same thought. Indeed this “life satisfaction” view of happiness lies behind most of the happiness studies you’ve read about. Happiness embodies your judgment about your life, and what matters for your happiness is something for you to decide.
This is an appealing view. But I have come to believe that it is probably wrong. Or at least, it can’t do justice to our everyday concerns about happiness.
I've seen very little critical appraisal of happiness studies in the economics journals. Other than Kerry Smith in REEP, it seems that economists have swallowed the blue pill:
Happiness economics seems to have captivated both the editors and referees of the flagship journals in economics. Theorists are trying to reconcile existing economic models with the empirical results of happiness economics, and behavioral economists are using the empirical results to support calls for new approaches to consumer sovereignty. Serious responses to happiness economics from environmental economists are long overdue. This article examines how a happiness survey would fare if it had to face the same standards used to evaluate contingent valuation or stated choice questions.
I presented a paper at the SEA meetings a couple of years ago that compared contingent valuation and happiness measures of value for the same sample of respondents (maybe I'll submit this to a journal someday ... imagine). The willingness to pay measure from the happiness question did not exhibit the sort of validity and reliability that contingent valuation researchers must show with every study.