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Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.

Price: $42.00

Paperback 384 pp.
156 mm x 234 mm



Publication date:
October 2010

Imprint: OUP UK

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The Pursuit of Unhappiness

The Elusive Psychology of Well-Being

Daniel M. Haybron

The pursuit of happiness is a defining theme of the modern era. But what if people aren't very good at it? That is the question posed by this book, the first comprehensive philosophical treatment of happiness, understood here as a psychological phenomenon. Engaging heavily with the scientific literature, Dan Haybron argues that people probably know less about their own welfare, and may be less effective at securing it, than common belief has it. This is largely because human nature is surprisingly ill-suited to the pursuit of happiness. For the happiness that counts for well-being is not a matter of what we think about our lives, but of the quality of our emotional conditions. Yet our emotional lives are remarkably difficult to grasp. Moreover, we make a variety of systematic errors in the pursuit of happiness. These considerations suggest that we should rethink traditional assumptions about the good life and the good society. For instance, the pursuit of happiness may be primarily a matter of social context rather than personal choice.

This book offers an extensive guide to philosophical thinking about happiness and well-being, correcting serious misconceptions that have beset the literature. It will be a definitive resource for philosophers, social scientists, policymakers, and other students of well-being.

Readership : Students and scholars of philosophy, social scientists, psychologists, and others interested in well-being.


  • Review from previous edition: "Insightful and imaginative. A serious pleasurable read for those happy enough to explore a difficult subject."

    --Paul O'Doherty, Irish Times
  • "Subtitled 'the elusive pscychology of well-being', this is a brilliant and comprehensive philosophical treatment of happiness in the psychological sense... The book calls us to rethink our assumptions about the good life and the good society, raising many of the questions explored by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World and Island. All this raises interesting and complex questions for politicians and educationalist as they grapple with introducing happiness studies into the curriculum."

  • "An original and thorough investigation, richly informed by empirical psychology, of almost every topic connected, or seen as connected, with happiness: the self, well-being and virtue, and the good society. It is written in an engaging, often humorous, sometimes poetic, style, and contains a wealth of illustrations from life, literature, film, science, the arts, the news media, and Haybron's own prodigious imagination... It is safe to say that, after this book, happiness will never be the same again."

    --Neera Badhwar, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
  • "A prodigious act of scholarship whose comprehensiveness dwarfs previous efforts. The best single source for empirical and philosophical approaches to investigating happiness. A highly nuanced treatment that rewards the reader with its frequent and original insights."

    --Robert L. Woolfolk, Princeton University
  • "Haybron's book is a perfect example of how philosophical ethics can matter beyond the academy as well as within it. This original book is an acute, engaging, and well-informed discussion of an issue of concern to every human being."

    --Roger Crisp, University of Oxford
  • "Daniel Haybron has written a rare book that combines philosophical sophistication with detailed knowledge of, and respect for, the psychological literature. He integrates the best that philosophy and psychology have to offer in pursuit of an answer to the question that matters above all others: how we ought to live. The result is a book that will edify psychologists and philosophers alike."

    --Barry Schwartz, Swarthmore College
  • "Both progress and provocation are vibrantly on display in Dan Haybron's oustanding new book, The Pursuit of Unhappiness. The book is a model of humanistic inquiry: acute philosophical argumentation disciplined by close and careful attention to the latest and best in the sciences of mind, everywhere textured by a keen eye for what it is to be a person - and why it matters."

    --John M. Doris, Washington University in St Louis
  • "Dan Haybron has written the definitive philosophical book on happiness, and it is a must-read for scholars of the good life. The work is broad, balanced, and interesting, and yet forcefully presents the case that happiness is a crucial element of good living. In making the argument, Haybron beautifully reviews both the philosophy of happiness, including what this concept means, and the empirical work on the topics arising in fields such as psychology and economics."

    --Ed Diener, Universtiy of Illinois
  • "Dan Haybron asks the key philosophical questions about happiness: what is happiness, and how can we know about it, and what is it good for? His book offers insightful answers that are well-grounded in both science and philosophy. The book is full of clear and rigorous arguments, but at the same time it is a pleasure to read. It will be a milestone in the philosophical discussion of happiness."

    --David Chalmers, Australian National University

Part I: Fundamentals of Prudential Psychology
1. Taking Socrates's Question Seriously
2. Happiness, Well-Being, and the Good Life: A Primer
3. What Do We Want from a Theory of Happiness? Or how to make a mongrel concept hunt
Part II: The Nature of Happiness
4. Hedonistic Theories of Happiness
5. Life Satisfaction Theories of Happiness
6. Emotional State Theories of Happiness
7. Happiness as Psychic Affirmation
Part III: The Nature of Well-Being
8. Well-Being and Virtue
9. Happiness, the Self, and Human Flourishing
Part IV: Pursuing Happiness
10. Do We Know How Happy We Are?
11. The Pursuit of Unhappiness
12. Happiness in Context: Notes on the Good Society

There are no Instructor/Student Resources available at this time.

Daniel Haybron is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Saint Louis University. His research interests centre on several issues in ethics: well-being and the good life, moral evil, and the virtues.

Better Never to Have Been - David Benatar
Making Sense - Margot Northey and Joan McKibbin

Special Features

  • The latest word on the hot topic of happiness.
  • Reveals some surprising facts about our own understanding of ourselves.
  • Establishes clear terms of debate for philosophical and other research on happiness.
  • Clearly structured explanations of often misunderstood concepts makes it accessible to students and nonspecialists.
  • Thoroughly interdisciplinary; engaging literature by psychologists, economists, sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists, and neuroscientists.