Can happiness measures be calibrated?

Mats Ingelstrom, Willem van der Deijl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Measures of happiness are increasingly being used throughout the social sciences. While these measures have attracted numerous types of criticisms, a crucial aspect of these measures has been left largely unexplored – their calibration. Using Eran Tal’s recently developed notion of calibration we argue first that the prospect of continued calibration of happiness measures is crucial for the science of happiness, and second, that continued calibration of happiness measures faces a particular problem – The Two Unknowns Problem. The Two Unknowns Problem relies on the claim that individuals are necessarily a part of the measurement apparatus in first person measures of happiness, and the claim that we have no reason to believe that the evaluation standards people employ are invariant across individuals and time. We argue that calibrating happiness measures therefore involves solving an equation with two unknowns – an individual’s degree of happiness, and their evaluation standards – which is, generally, not possible. Third, we consider two possible escape routes from this problem and we suggest that the most promising route requires yet unexplored empirical and theoretical work on linking happiness to behavioral or neural evidence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5719-5746
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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