Check out this interview on
MSNBC with Psychiatrist Dr. Donald E. Rosen, conducted by MSNBC health editor
Jane Weaver. I’m breaking it down

Q. What does it mean to be happy? How do scientists
measure it?

I’m asking you
because, as a psychiatrist, you are clearly the sort of person most qualified
to provide a conceptual analysis of happiness. I can’t think of a single other sort of person in the world with more
expertise in this area. Not one.
   Shut up, Valerie Tiberius, I said not one and I meant it.

Positive emotional style is typified by a more happy mood, feelings of
liveliness and calmness.

Whoa there, Dr. Rosen! The question was: what does it
mean to be happy? Not: what typifies a positive emotional
style? Are you presupposing that
happiness just is having a positive emotional style?  And are you then explaining what it means to
have a positive emotional style in terms of the notion of a “happy mood”? Because if you are, that would be like
totally circular. Dr. Rosen, we are off
to a really bad start here. Maybe you’d
like to start over?

But it gets very hard to specify if my scale of 1 to 10 is
like your scale. How happy are you on a scale of 1 to 10? It’s relative to you.
The measures are inherently subjective.

I could not agree more with the claim that happiness is
relative. How happy I am is determined
by facts about me, while how happy you are is determined by facts about
you. It’s also inherently
subjective: how happy I am is
determined by my own subjective mental states. That’s what you’re saying, right Dr. Rosen?

Q. What is really meant by a positive emotional
style and how does it affect our health?

Good follow-up
question, Jane Weaver. You should be a

Part of having a positive emotional style is a feeling of
calmness. Research shows that happier people have a lower resting pulse at
work, as well as at leisure.

This would be a
great answer to the question: can you
tell me one part of having a positive emotional style?

Q. What about personal achievement? Are more
successful people happier?

Please say no,
please say no…

The relationship between achievement and happiness yields
a mixed bag. There’s a common misconception that people who are high achievers
are happier. For example, actors who won an Academy Award lived on average four
years longer than other nominees. Those who won two lived six years longer. But
screenwriters who won an Academy Award lived three years shorter than the other
nominees. Even though the Award-winning screenwriters had longer careers, they
didn’t live as long.

But… but… Dr.
Rosen, the question was about happiness, and your response isn’t about
happiness at all, but longevity… and your evidence doesn’t even really show…
AAAAAHHH (head explodes)

To paraphrase Gandhi, happiness is when what you think,
you say and what you do are consistent with each other and are consistent with
your values.

Now we’re talking! A
conceptual analysis of happiness! Here’s the analysis, which I will call the Gandhi/Rosen account:

GR: Person S is
happy at time t =df. what S thinks at t, what S says at t, what S does at t and
what S values at t are consistent with each other.

If you can’t come up with a counterexample to GR in less
than 2.3 seconds, you are not a PEA Souper! Take that, Psychiatrist Dr. Donald E. Rosen M.D.!

4 Replies to “Happiness on MSNBC

  1. Ben,
    So hard to know what to say! But I take your telling me to shut up as a personal invitation. (And motivation to get with the fast pace of pea-souping).
    One thing to say is that not all psychologists are this… oblivious to the subtleties of conceptual analysis. Many are quite explicit about defining terms for specific purposes and they often claim to be studying a relatively uncontroversial *part* of one very general end (such as well-being’ or ‘the good life’), thus leaving real analysis to others (us?)

  2. Valerie, are you suggesting that Jane Weaver, health editor at, didn’t choose an appropriate person to ask about the nature of happiness? Hogwash!
    (I’m not sure what “Trackback” is. I just click every possible box when I post something, just to be safe.)

  3. The trackback link will show who has linked to this post. So, if Dr. Donald E. Rosen M.D. decided to post a reply to Ben’s post—imagine that!—on another blog and he linked to it, it would show up here on PEA Soup as a trackback.

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