Happiness is from the soul: The nature and origins of our happiness concept

Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 150 (2):276-288 (2021)
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Abstract

What is happiness? Is happiness about feeling good or about being good? Across five studies, we explored the nature and origins of our happiness concept developmentally and crosslinguistically. We found that surprisingly, children as young as age 4 viewed morally bad people as less happy than morally good people, even if the characters all have positive subjective states (Study 1). Moral character did not affect attributions of physical traits (Study 2), and was more powerfully weighted than subjective states in attributions of happiness (Study 3). Moreover, moral character but not intelligence influenced children and adults’ happiness attributions (Study 4). Finally, Chinese people responded similarly when attributing happiness with two words, despite one (“Gao Xing”) being substantially more descriptive than the other (“Kuai Le”) (Study 5). Therefore, we found that moral judgment plays a relatively unique role in happiness attributions, which is surprisingly early emerging and largely independent of linguistic and cultural influences, and thus likely reflects a fundamental cognitive feature of the mind.

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