INTRODUCTION Positive psychology is the scientific study of optimal human functioning (Sheldon et. all. 2000). Happiness is not the same as optimal functioning but is a closely related phenomenon. Happiness is a major manifestation of optimal functioning, since we are hard-wired to feel good when functioning well (e.g. Balcombe 2006). Happiness is also a determinant of optimal functioning, since happiness “broadens” our behavioral repertoire and “builds” resources (Fredrickson 2004). Consequently, happiness is a major topic in positive psychology. Much research in positive psychology aims at understanding why some people are happier than others and tries to find ways for making people happier. As such, the science of positive psychology links up with the ideology that we should foster human happiness. The idea of a moral obligation to advance human happiness is a fruit of the European “Enlightenment,” an intellectual movement that took position against religious views that had dominated thinking in the Middle Ages. One of the contested views was that happiness can be found only in the afterlife and that earthly life serves as an entrance test to Heaven. Enlightened opinion was rather that happiness is possible on Earth and that we should not renounce it. Another contested view was that the basis of morality is in divine revelation, and in particular in the 10 Commandments. Enlightened thinkers came to see morality more as a matter of human agreement and discussed the intellectual foundations for social contracts. Much of this thought was voiced by Jeremy Bentham (1789) in his famous book On Morals and Legislation, in which he argued that the good and bad of actions should be judged by their effects on human happiness. In this view, the best thing to do is what results in the “greatest happiness, for the greatest number.” This moral creed is called “the greatest happiness principle.”

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Department of Sociology

Veenhoven, R. (2011). Greater happiness for a greater number: Is that possible? If so, how?. Retrieved from