What is it about?
Across five studies, we found that children as young as age four think "bad people are not happy", even if bad people could get everything they desire. Moral character, but not intelligence or physical traits, influenced children's happiness attributions. The findings suggest that even from early in life, we do not equate happiness as feelings or pleasures, but we think happiness is about being a good person and live a good life.
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Why is it important?
The findings help answer the long-debated philosophical question "what is happiness". Children are traditionally viewed as hedonistic-oriented (as documented by the "happy victimizer phenomenon"), but our findings suggest actually children's thinking is more sophisticated in that, actually as sophisticated as Aristotle's view, that happiness is about virtue rather than pleasures. The findings show that we associate happiness with morality in a relatively unique way, a robust tendency across ages, cultures and languages, which suggests it is likely to be a fundamental cognitive feature of the mind.
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This page is a summary of: Happiness is from the soul: The nature and origins of our happiness concept., Journal of Experimental Psychology General, February 2021, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/xge0000790.
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