This is a paper I just randomly found again in my saved reading list that seems relevant to the EA Forum.

It talks about the concept of 'aversion to happiness' which I have never heard of before in EA circles. This paper might thus be interesting to EAs who consider some form of happiness/good qualia intrinsically valuable and certain measures of happiness as their core unit of intrinsic value (of which there are many in my experience):


"A common view in contemporary Western culture is that personal happiness is one of the most important values in life. For example, in American culture it is believed that failing to appear happy is cause for concern. These cultural notions are also echoed in contemporary Western psychology (including positive psychology and much of the research on subjective well-being). However, some important (often culturally-based) facts about happiness have tended to be overlooked in the psychological research on the topic. One of these cultural phenomena is that, for some individuals, happiness is not a supreme value. In fact, some individuals across cultures are averse to various kinds of happiness for several different reasons. This article presents the first review of the concept of aversion to happiness. Implications of the outcomes are discussed, as are directions for further research."

Rough Review and Summary

I have skimmed some of the paper, here are my thoughts:

A lot of it focuses on the effects of outward expression of happiness on other people's happiness or the fact that embracing happiness might lead to more subsequent suffering, which is still compatible with happiness being a core unit of value/morality. I thus do not think these claims are very relevant to EA.

However, the paper also claims that in some cultures, individuals do not consider being happy as morally desirable or even consider being happy as bad - which would be incompatible with EA notions of considering happiness intrinsically valuable:

"People aren’t just averse to happiness because it might lead to [subsequent unhappiness], however; some individuals and some cultures tend to believe that happiness is worthy of aversion because being happy can make someone a worse person (both morally and otherwise). Again, we found evidence for this belief in both non-Western and Western cultures. First we discuss beliefs that happiness is worthy of aversion because it can make someone a morally worse person, and then we discuss beliefs that happiness is worthy of aversion because it can make someone less creative."

It gives a few examples of that and later goes on to summarize and conclude:

"It should be noted that [this paper] casts little doubt on the intrinsic value of most kinds of happiness. Indeed, while happiness and the pursuit of certain kinds of happiness are widely believed to have negative effects for some people in some cases, happiness is, in and of itself, still a positive experience for most people and according to most of the common conceptions of happiness.


Nevertheless, it should not be in doubt that many individuals and cultures do tend to be averse to some forms of happiness, especially when taken to the extreme, for many different reasons.


These considerations show that equating happiness with the supreme universal good is dangerous unless each culture (or individual!) were to create and be assessed by its own definition of happiness."

It also makes a few interesting points about international comparisons of happiness across nations being potentially flawed due to response bias caused by aversion to happiness.


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1 comment, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 12:23 AM

Thank you for sharing, this is useful to my current research goals!