Happiness: An Interactionist Perspective


  • Aaron Ahuvia University of Michigan
  • Neil Thin University of Edinburgh
  • Dan Haybron St. Louis University
  • Robert Biswas-Diener Portland State University
  • Mathieu Ricard Shechen Monastery & Mind and Life Institute
  • Jean Timsit


happiness, income, quality of life, well-being, wellbeing, care giving, co-responsibility, felicitation


Few would deny that happiness arises from a complex interaction of internal and external factors, like optimism on the one hand and money on the other. Yet research, as well as practical strategies for promoting happiness, tends to focus narrowly on one side or the other. A typical study, for instance, might examine the correlation between happiness and an internal variable like optimism, or an external variable like income. And practical strategies commonly divide into “change the world” versus “change your mind” approaches: promote health and wealth, for example, or cultivate gratitude for what you already have. This paper explores how our understanding of happiness is enhanced by “interactionist” approaches that emphasize the complex webs of interactions and feedbacks that give rise to happiness and unhappiness. While implicitly interactionist themes have increasingly characterized research on happiness, we anticipate that an explicit recognition of the interactionist perspective will foster greater attention to the complexities of happiness, particularly in the domain of human sociality, which involves especially rich and potent webs of interaction. A further upshot, we believe, is a greater awareness of our co-responsibility for one another’s happiness.


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