Happiness matters. Who doesn’t strive for well-being? None of us voluntarily seek pain or sorrow or revel when such occasions occur. It is an innate factor in all of us to seek happiness and well-being. The paradox is, however, that happiness eludes us, and well-being never seems to be within our grasp. This has drawn the attention of academicians, especially social scientists, philosophers, psychologists, and economists. The Gross National Happiness Index (GNHI), born originally out of Bhutan in 1972, is now considered much important than Gross Domestic Product, and has begun to be taken seriously by nation heads and international agencies.
There have been several philosophical theories of well-being, both in Eastern and Western philosophical circles, that have contributed to the understanding of these concepts. There are, in Western philosophy, at least three major types of theories of well-being: a) Hedonist theories: quantitative hedonism of Bentham, qualitative hedonism of J.S.Mill, mental state theories, happiness theories, etc.; b) Desire-fulfilment theories or preference-satisfaction theories: present desire theories, reflective desire theories, informed desire-fulfilment theories; c) Objective list theories: philosophers such as Derek Parfit, James Griffin, John Finnis have offered lists, while philosophers such as Philip Kitcher have made distinctions as bare objective theories and explanatory objective theories, the most influential being Perfectionism objective list theory. An example of this perfectionism theory is Eudaimonia of Aristotle. Another example of objective list theory is Martha Naussbaum’s capability theory of well-being, wherein she has presented a list of ten capabilities needed for a healthy well-being.
Religion too plays a vital role in the shaping of the notions of happiness and well-being. It might be a bit far-fetched to claim that eastern religions focus on discovering it in the inner self along with external acts and Western religions focus on discovering it through relationships with the divine, others and nature. Nevertheless, such a broad understanding exists among common people too. A longing for happiness, both for existential and essential reasons, persists among many a people. The suffering masses, for whom the only recourse is the Divine, turn to religion for happiness and well-being.
At the social realm, a few factors that exercise influence and, even to some extent, determine well-being are economics, politics, psychology, and culture. In the 1970s happiness economics emerged as an important debate and saw the contributions of Richard Easterlin, Tibor Scitovsky, Hirsch, Arkelof, Sen, etc. Today, there are several deliberations such as ‘livability’ (a term used by Ruut Veenhoven to refer to quality of life), Human Development Index (HDI), quality-of-life index, Global Wellbeing Survey, Gross National Happiness Index, etc.
This seminar seeks to engage with such themes mentioned above and shed more light on happiness and well-being, leading to a meaningful existence.