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Well-Being & Happiness: An Engagement with Philosophy, Religion & Society (National Seminar)

Thiruvanmiyur, Chennai
Organization: Research Institute
Event: National Seminar
Categories: Interdisciplinary, Popular Culture, Aesthetics, Anthropology/Sociology, Classical Studies, Cultural Studies, Environmental Studies, Film, TV, & Media, Food Studies, History, Philosophy
Event Date: 2020-01-03 to 2020-01-04 Abstract Due: 2019-09-30

                                                  CONCEPT NOTE

Happiness matters. Who doesn’t strive for well-being? None of us voluntarily seek pain or
sorrow or revel when such occasions occur. It is an innate factor in all of us to seek happiness
and well-being. The paradox is, however, that happiness eludes us, and well-being never seems
to be within our grasp. This has drawn the attention of academicians, especially social scientists,
philosophers, psychologists, and economists. The Gross National Happiness Index (GNHI), born
originally out of Bhutan in 1972, is now considered much important than Gross Domestic
Product, and has begun to be taken seriously by nation heads and international agencies.
There have been several philosophical theories of well-being, both in Eastern and Western
philosophical circles, that have contributed to the understanding of these concepts. There are, in
Western philosophy, at least three major types of theories of well-being: a) Hedonist theories:
quantitative hedonism of Bentham, qualitative hedonism of J.S.Mill, mental state theories,
happiness theories, etc.; b) Desire-fulfilment theories or preference-satisfaction theories:
present desire theories, reflective desire theories, informed desire-fulfilment theories; c)
Objective list theories: philosophers such as Derek Parfit, James Griffin, John Finnis have offered
lists, while philosophers such as Philip Kitcher have made distinctions as bare objective theories
and explanatory objective theories, the most influential being Perfectionism objective list
theory. An example of this perfectionism theory is Eudaimonia of Aristotle. Another example of

objective list theory is Martha Naussbaum’s capability theory of well-being, wherein she has
presented a list of ten capabilities needed for a healthy well-being.
Religion too plays a vital role in the shaping of the notions of happiness and well-being. It might
be a bit far-fetched to claim that eastern religions focus on discovering it in the inner self along
with external acts and Western religions focus on discovering it through relationships with the
divine, others and nature. Nevertheless, such a broad understanding exists among common
people too. A longing for happiness, both for existential and essential reasons, persists among
many a people. The suffering masses, for whom the only recourse is the Divine, turn to religion
for happiness and well-being.
At the social realm, a few factors that exercise influence and, even to some extent, determine
well-being are economics, politics, psychology, and culture. In the 1970s happiness economics
emerged as an important debate and saw the contributions of Richard Easterlin, Tibor Scitovsky,
Hirsch, Arkelof, Sen, etc. Today, there are several deliberations such as ‘livability’ (a term used
by Ruut Veenhoven to refer to quality of life), Human Development Index (HDI), quality-of-life
index, Global Wellbeing Survey, Gross National Happiness Index, etc.
This seminar seeks to engage with such themes mentioned above and shed more light on
happiness and well-being, leading to a meaningful existence.


Robin S. Seelan