This may sound a stupid question, but I find it difficult to ask questions about a claim that some factor will affect happiness or quality of life of an individual. For clarification here is a list of some things where I hear claims of 'happiness' and could theoretically want to ask a question about. (I'm not claiming any of the below is true!).

The claims I hear usually claim only that a factor will affect happiness or quality of life, but rarely are more specific then a general claim of greater or lesser happiness. However, to ask a question here we need sufficient rigor in definition to allow a claim to be proven or disprove; leaving me with the task of taking an ambiguous term like 'happiness' and trying to provide a definition of sufficient rigor.

I could pick one specific definition of happiness to use, such as prevalence of suicide, for such a question, but this narrows the scope of a question. Theoretically it could turn out that suicides are not significantly affected, or no study was done on the affect of suicide specifically, but every other definition of happiness was proven to be have a substantial increase/decrease which would suggest that happiness was strongly affected by whatever situation I was asking about; but by narrowing my question to the one measurement of suicide I will not learn about those other factors.

Furthermore, some times a single factor isn't a good fit for measuring happiness. For example if I'm asking about claims that regular meditation increases happiness the expected affect of meditation is minor enough that I wouldn't expect it to necessarily have a significant affect on suicide rates even if it does provide other, smaller, benefits.

I could instead give a long list of things that I would consider as definitions of quality of life and state studies looking into any of these factors would be acceptable, but that results in 1/3 of my post being defining 'happiness' and just seems cumbersome.

Can anyone suggest a better way of providing a rigorous definition of happiness or quality of life for questions about such claims that is not cumbersome to use? Frankly what I would really like to have is a per-written rigorous definition of how to statistically measure happiness or quality of life that I could simply point to any time I need to define these ambiguous terms.

2 Answers 2


In an ideal world, it isn't the person asking the question who defines the terms given in the claim, but the claimant. (This is one of the reasons for requiring notable claims - so we can go back and check if there is any context about how the terms are being used.)

We sometimes have people asking questions where they decide to specify the meaning of the claim, and it turns out to be an unreasonable strawman, or an esoteric definition that the original claimant probably didn't mean.

The other problem is that there may be copious research using a different definition, which is then harder for the answerer to introduce as relevant.

This isn't a hard-and-fast rule, but it might be beneficial to:

  1. find more context from the claimant(s) to direct the definition, or
  2. highlight that the terms are vague and invite the answerer to specify how they have interpreted it.

There isn't a single objective happiness metric. Studies use metrics that are useful in that they choose metrics with external validity, good test-retest correlation, and replicability across studies.

That doesn't make any particular choice of happiness metric the right one.

Quality of life is a separate question. Lots of good info here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quality_of_life

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