Happiness, Pleasure, and Judgment: The Contextual Theory and Its Applications, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Happiness, Pleasure, and Judgment

The Contextual Theory and Its Applications, 1st Edition

By Allen Parducci

Psychology Press

240 pages

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Hardback: 9780805818918
pub: 1995-09-01
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What makes a life happy? The essential idea of this book is that the happy life is one in which the best of whatever is experienced comes relatively often, regardless of how good that best might be. It matters little whether one is rich or poor, successful or unsuccessful, beautiful or plain: happiness is completely relative, in the sense that the pleasantness of any particular experience depends on its relationship to a context of other experiences, real or imagined.

Presenting the first formal, predictive theory of happiness, this volume explains its foundations in experimental research on judgment, and explores its practical implications. Based on principles of judgment developed in psychophysical research, this theory applies these principles to explain hedonic experiences in real-life situations. The work is thus a mixture of basic experimental science and speculative applications to the imaginary experiences central to happiness.

Pleasures are dimensional judgments which, like all such judgments, depend on their contexts of related experiences. The pleasantness of any experience, real or imaginary, is determined by how it stacks up against other experiences ordered by preference. Because of this relational emphasis, the contextual theory entails maximizations of pleasure very different from those described by conventional applications of utility theories.

This is illustrated by a computerized happiness game in which players try to maximize the pleasures experienced in contexts established by their own choices. Players tend to get worse with practice, reflecting how immediate pleasures that extend the context upward can reduce the pleasantness of other, more frequent experiences. Computer simulations demonstrate the consequences of different assumptions regarding how hedonic contexts are established and changed.

Primarily written for those curious about the conditions for happiness, this book will also find an audience with readers stimulated by the laboratory research on the relational character of judgment and of pleasure and pain. Readers may also feel encouraged to examine and further articulate their own ideas about happiness.


"…engagingly written book. Illustrating his arguments with delightfully clear examples from his own life and the many studies he and his students have conducted over the years, Parducci demonstrates the powerful influence that context has not only on judgments of the physical properties of objects but of the pleasantness of everyday events, judgments of merit, and even assessments of psychopathology! Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduate through professional."


"In summary, Parducci's book provides a scholarly approach to a question that consumes much of popular psychology, namely, how to live a happy life. Although providing no simple recipes for happiness, the book does provide an intellectually stimulating examination of this age old question, along with several intriguing, if speculative, answers.

Contemporary Psychology, V42 #5,'97

Table of Contents

Contents: Preface. Introduction. Part I: A Psychological Approach to Happiness. On Defining Happiness: The Balance of Pleasure Over Pain. Pleasure as an Internal Judgment. The Context for Judgment. Part II: Contextual Theory and Research. Life as an Even Balance Between Pleasure and Pain. Experimental Research on Contextual Effects. The Range-Frequency Compromise in Judgment. The Contextual Theory of Happiness. Part III: Applying the Theory. The Happiness Game: Simplest Version. Optimistic Versions of the Happiness Game. Real-World Strategies for Happiness. The Imagination as the Theater for Happiness. Social Planning: Utopia Destroyed. Thoreau: A Message for the Very Strong.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PSYCHOLOGY / Social Psychology