Einhorn’s Theory of Happiness – looking beyond pleasure and pain

Einhorn’s Theory of Happiness – looking beyond pleasure and pain

via Psychology Today by Joachim Krueger


  • An assessment of happiness requires us to look at nonevents as well.
  • Behavioral decision theory is relevant for the study of happiness.
J. Krueger

3 cookies of happniessSource: J. Krueger

Don’t think about all the things that you want that you don’t have. Think of all the things that you don’t want that you don’t have. – Fortune cookie wisdom

Hillel Einhorn, one of the godfathers of behavioral decision theory (see Hogarth & Klayman, 1988, for a loving obituary), once found this epigraphic piece of wisdom in a fortune cookie, which got him thinking about the things he did not want and did not have (see here). Einhorn caught a glimpse of a statistical theory of happiness. Once we distinguish, he said, the things we want from the things we don’t want and the things we have from the things we don’t have, we can behold a 2 by 2 frequency table. Let’s call the things we want and have A, the things we want and don’t have B, the things we don’t want and have C, and the things we neither want nor have D. We can now estimate the correlation between (not) wanting and (not) having. A positive correlation would indicate happiness.

David Grüning

Einhorn’s 2 x 2 of happinessSource: David Grüning

Let’s call the conjunction of wants and haves pleasure (cell A, at the top left of the matrix in the figure). The conjunction of wants and not-haves, that is, cell B, might be called desire, and specifically unmet desire. The conjunction of not-wants and haves, cell C, might be called pain. Finally, Einhorn’s fortune cookie cell, D, is the conjunction of not-wants and not-haves.’ In the matrix, cells A and D are shaded green to indicate positive value, whereas cells B and C are shaded pink for negative value. The correlation between rows and columns is Φ = (AD-BC) / √(A+B)(C+D)(A+C)(B+D).

Let’s put some numbers into the cells to see how the Φ coefficient behaves and what lessons it can teach about happiness. There are several Φ calculators available online. For this exploration, let’s use the Statology site. We begin by generating numbers using two simple assumptions. First, suppose things are going well in that there are many pleasures that come to mind but few desires or pains. Second, Einhorn’s fortune cookie events, since they are nonevents, are hard to think of. Taking A = 10, B = 5, C = 5, and D = 0 as a start, we find that Φ = -.333. This is an unhappy result, although there are as many pleasures as there are unfulfilled desires and pains combined. We might even count our blessings and get the number of pleasures up to 100. The correlation is reduced in strength, but it remains negative with Φ = -.048. No positive number of pleasures yields a positive correlation if the three other numbers remain the same. Entering Einhorn with just 1 instance in cell D, however, turns the correlation into a positive Φ = .168. When, as is reasonable to assume, few unwanted non-events come to mind, just thinking of a few or even just one such non-event has a stronger salutary effect on the overall association than does adding more blessings to those already counted…

… keep reading the full & original article HERE