In his book "Sapiens - a Brief History of Humankind", Harari argues that the biochemistry of "happiness" in any person can only move within bounds, dictated by genetics.

He also argues that happiness only improves momentarily when objective circumstances improve, and only e.g. a degenerative disease or permanent physical pain can result in lasting change. This seems to be widely accepted and is backed by numerous studies.

I could not, however, find any studies supporting his statement that events such as the agricultural revolution had no lasting impact on humankind's objective happiness.

Are there any scientific studies on the biochemistry of happiness of generations that lived before and after major historic events like the cure of a disease that affected large parts of the studied community?

Whats psychology's take on human happiness throughout history?

Please suggest edits, as I am no expert on any of this.

  • $\begingroup$ Happiness as an emotion or feeling is very subjective and therefore the subject of what makes people happy would be at best, an opinion related study. I think, therefore, that this question is off-topic for this site. Maybe philosophy.se might be a better fit $\endgroup$ Apr 12, 2018 at 23:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris would this question be on-topic if the asker focused on a correlational study of happiness in proportion to technological advancements, instead of a biochemistry level of detail? $\endgroup$
    – Seanny123
    Apr 13, 2018 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Seanny123 - to me you need to ask yourself "can the question of a person's happiness be answered without opinion"? If the answer is yes, than my opinion is incorrect and the question is on-topic. The way I see it, if you ask someone if they are happy, it can only be answered through that person's opinion based on their feelings at the time. The opinion can change after reflection. $\endgroup$ Apr 13, 2018 at 21:31

1 Answer 1


Depends what you mean by "objective happiness". If we use the term in the way that it's used by Kahneman etc., meaning that

In the special conditions of the clinic or laboratory it is sometimes possible to obtain continuous or almost continuous reports of experienced utility from patients or experimental subjects. Continuous measures are of course impractical for the measurement of objective happiness over a period of time. Sampling techniques must be used to obtain a set of values of moment-utility that adequately represents the intended population of individuals, times and occasions. For example, a study of the objective happiness of Californians should use a sample of observations that reflects the relative amounts of time spent on the freeway and in hot tubs. Techniques for sampling times and occasions have been developed in the context of Experience Sampling Methodology (ESM) (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; Stone, Shiffman and DeVries, 1999).

It's hard to imagine getting such data retrospectively from ancient or even just past populations.

Ref quoted: Kahneman, D. (2000). Experienced utility and objective happiness: A moment-based approach. In D. Kahneman & A. Tversky (Eds.), Choices, values and frames (pp. 673-692). New York: Cambridge. University Press and the Russell Sage Foundation.

Generally, diet and/or physical trauma leave a bone recod for archeologists to study. Alas I'm not aware of neurochemistry of past populations being ammenable to study (other than comparative studies across current species, e.g. humans vs apes).


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