Happiness

New paper for the Mercatus Center on the problems with happiness policy

Mark D. White

Smiley wallpaperJust a brief note to point interested readers toward my first paper for the Mercatus Center, "The Problems with Measuring and Using Happiness for Policy Purposes."

For more detail on happiness, other measures of well-being or welfare, and alternative approaches to policymaking, see my book The Illusion of Well-Being: Economic Policymaking Based on Respect and Responsiveness.


There Is Little Happiness to Be Found in Happiness-Based Policy

Mark D. White

IllusionGovernments around the world are starting to measure happiness (or subjective well-being) with the goal of a more humane process of policymaking. According to supporters, happiness-based policy will focus governments’ attention on what really matters to their citizens, their essential well-being, better than economic measures such as gross domestic product or national income that are too far removed from the day-to-day concerns of the people.

While the intentions may be good, the benefits of happiness-based policy are illusory at best and counterproductive at worst. There are fundamental problems with defining and measuring happiness, as well as implementing policy based on it, that prevent it from being a viable alternative to traditional policymaking based on GDP and other economic statistics.

First, the term “happiness” is notoriously difficult to define. Philosophers have tried to do this for centuries, identifying and detailing many types of happiness but arriving at no universal definition. Songwriters, poets, and novelists have done a better job describing happiness in all of its nuance and glory, but this does not provide a solid basis for measurement. For the most part, psychologists and economists who try to measure happiness do not worry about definitions, satisfied that “everyone knows what is,” but with no guarantee that everyone knows it to the be the same thing. Happiness is simply too vague a concept to define precisely enough for measurement without excluding what many people consider happiness to be to them.

Second, there is no straightforward way to translate an essentially qualitative and subjective feeling such as happiness into quantitative data. Most happiness surveys consist of questions about the respondents’ current state of happiness or satisfaction with their lives, which they answer on a numerical scale with the units labeled “very unhappy” to “very happy” or “the least satisfied I can imagine” to “the most satisfied I can imagine.” Even if the definition of happiness were clear, these labels are not. For instance, how a person interprets these labels depends critically on the experiences and circumstances of his or her life. A wealthy and successful CEO may feel she has not lived up to her potential, while the janitor in her building may be very pleased with his lot in life. Human beings have the ability to adapt to their life circumstances, which explains why people living in deplorable conditions may nonetheless report high levels of happiness and well-being. This also implies that the steps on the happiness scale are inherently subjective, nonuniform, and incomparable, rendering them unable to support the mathematical processes researchers need to perform on them to provide information for policymakers.

Finally, even if there were no problems with definition or measurement, happiness-based policymaking raises numerous ethical and political issues when it comes to implementation. For example, would the government target a growth rate for happiness? This is problematic in light of the “hedonic treadmill,” by which we work hard to achieve more happiness, only to adapt to that level and strive for more. In the end, we work more and more and end up with little increase in happiness, and the same would likely hold for official happiness “stimulus.” Another concern is the possibility of significant inequality of happiness: due to adaptation, the underprivileged may report levels of happiness that mask their circumstances while the affluent express dissatisfaction and boredom. Would we then redistribute resources from the poor who seem happy to the rich who don’t? Finally, people often give up some happiness now in exchange for more later, such as when they go to school or on a diet. How would government measures focused on the now take account of investments in the future? All of these are questions that policymakers will be forced to struggle with if they choose to base policy on measures of happiness.

Given the inherently vague, qualitative, and subjective nature of happiness, it is impossible to define and measure it well enough for the purpose of policymaking. This is not a simple matter of refining statistical techniques; the problems with happiness measurement are more fundamental than that.

There is, however, a better way. Instead of trying to determine what happiness is and how to measure it, the government can trust individuals to make choices in pursuit of their own interests. Instead of trying to boost the happiness of those doing fairly well, the government can devote its resources to alleviating the suffering of the poor. Instead of targeting the general level of happiness based on arbitrary definitions and inaccurate measurement, the government can address specific problems that their citizens tell them need to be addressed.

In short, the government does not need to define, measure, and evaluate happiness in order to find problems to address. There are enough problems facing the country that are readily apparent. Liberals, conservatives, and libertarians may disagree about the scale and scope of what government should do, but I think they would all agree that the government should deal with the problems at hand rather than invent new ways to find them. In the end, that may be the best way to make people happy.


For more, see my latest book, The Illusion of Well-Being: Economic Policymaking Based on Respect and Responsiveness (pictured above), as well as a longer two-part treatment of the above at the LSE Politics and Policy blog (here and here).


Call for abstracts: Conference, "Economics and Psychology in Historical Perspective"

Mark D. White

Conference call for contributions

Economics and psychology in historical perspective

(from 18th century to the present)

Paris, December 17th - December 19th 2014

Organized by Mikaël Cozic (UPEC, IUF & IHPST, France) and Jean-Sébastien Lenfant (U. Lille 1, France)

 

IMPORTANT DATES:

Notification of interest: June 10th 2014

Deadline for abstract:  July 10th 2014

Notification of acceptance: August 31th 2014

Full paper: December 1st 2014

 

SCIENTIFIC COMMITTEE:

Erik Angner (George Mason university, USA), Richard Arena (Université de Nice Sophia-Antipolis), Laurie Bréban (Université Paris 8, France), Luigino Bruni (Università Lumsa a Roma, Italy), Annie L. Cot (Université Paris 1, France), Agnès Festré (Université de Picardie Jules Verne, France), Till Grüne Yanoff (Royal Institute of Technology, KTH, Sweden), Alessandro Innocenti (Università di Siena, Italy), Ivan Moscati (Insubria University, Italy), Annika Wallin (Lunds Universitet, Sweden).

CONFIRMED INVITED SPEAKERS:

Philippe MONGIN (CNRS & HEC Paris, France), Floris HEUKELOM (U. Nijmegen, Netherdlands), Robert SUGDEN (University of East Anglia, United Kingdom).

CALL FOR CONTRIBUTIONS

“Psychology is evidently at the basis of political economy and, in general, of all the social sciences. A day will come when we will be able to deduce the laws of the social science from the principles of psychology” (Pareto, Manual of Political Economy, 1909, II, §1)

Neoclassical economics was built upon a theory of rational behavior that pretended to be independent from psychological foundations. Actually, Pareto, who has been instrumental in laying the foundations of modern utility and rational choice theory, uphold that economics and psychology needed to develop separately and that the hopes for reconciling psychology, economics and sociology in the social sciences “still remain some way off”.

Over thirty years or so, an important part of economics has been oriented towards realizing Pareto’s prophecy that a day would come when economics and psychology would benefit from reconciling each others, opening the way for a better understanding of individual and collective behaviors. This reconciliation comes after a period of time during which economics has developed its tools and principles away from psychology (or so the standard narrative argues), on the mere assumption that rational behavior could be described satisfactorily with a well-behaved utility function. For many economists, the offspring of this collective effort is called “behavioral economics”, and it is sometimes viewed a new paradigm in economics, providing tools and principles that may be applied to different fields of economic inquiry (finance, development economics, game theory, etc.).

Basics of behavioral economics are now part of any curricula in economics. The advent of behavioral economics has often been associated with a story-telling argument about its early development in the 1970s and its establishment, focusing on three main points: 1) the legitimization of experimental methods in economics; 2) the usefulness of concepts and ideas borrowed from psychology to increase the explanatory or predictive power of the theory of rational behavior; 3) the advent of a renewed view of human behavior and hence of new ideas in normative economics.

Actually, Pareto’s opening quotation reminds us also that psychology (in different guises) has been a fundamental issue for economists even since 18th century, if only because economists have usually grounded their own theory of economics on some ideas about human nature, and especially on human desires and beliefs.

In recent years, historians of economic thought and theoreticians have shown an interest in understanding the ins and outs of the behavioral turn in economics, and more broadly, on the introduction of psychological elements in economic explanations. Some have focused on recent history, enhancing the different trends of behavioral economics. Others have dealt with the nascent of behavioral economics and the early collaboration between economists and psychologists in the 1950s. Still some others have tried to understand how the marginalist school of thought had relied on the experimental psychology of its time—namely psychophysics—and how it had progressively been expelled out of the realm of economics, at least temporarily, with Pareto and Fisher. However, those contributions have not been coordinated and we are far from having a comprehensive overview of the complex history of the relationships between economics and psychology.

The aim of this conference is to gather contributions from historians of economics and historians of psychology (including cognitive sciences), and also from historically-oriented researchers and philosophers of these disciplines. The overall ambition is to understand the way economics has dealt with psychological arguments, methods and concepts throughout history and to highlight the main debates between economists and psychologists that have fostered and are still fostering behavioral economics. It is hoped that these will pave the way for an overall vision of the history of the relationships between economics and psychology and of the methodological transformations of economics as a discipline.

The organizers wish to limit the number of contributions so that most of the conference will take place in plenary sessions. Interested contributors are asked to indicate their interest in participating to the conference to A COMPLETER. The deadline for submitting an abstract is July 10th 2014. It is hoped that the contributions to the conference will in turn lead to the publication of a comprehensive reference book with short versions of papers and to thematic issues in journals.

Below is a non-exhaustive list of topics, authors and schools of thought:

  • Psychology in economics before the marginalist revolution (Hume, Smith, Condillac, Quesnay)
  • Psychophysics, psychology and the (pre)marginalists (Gossen, Jevons, Walras, Marshall, Edgeworth, Pareto and Fisher, psychology in the Austrian tradition)
  • Psychologists, economists, and the birth and development of experimental psychology (1850-1950)
  • Psychology in the institutionalist and Keynesian schools of thought (Veblen, Mitchell, J.M Clark, Keynes, Duesenberry, Post-Keynesian school).
  • How psychologists came to study decision and choice after World War II (Edwards, Davidson, Luce, Suppes, Siegel, etc).
  • The role and importance of ‘mathematical psychology’ and of the ‘representational theory of measurement’
  • Allais’s paradox and other decision paradoxes from the point of view of economics and psychology.
  • National traditions in the development of “economic psychology” (in relation with social psychology) and early behavioral economics in the USA (Katona, Simon), France, Germany, England, Italy, etc.
  • How psychologists have been involved in the development of behavioral economics and alternative paradigms to study economic behavior (e.g. Kahneman, Tversky, Slovic, Gigerenzer)?
  • Did economics borrow concepts and laws from psychology or did they rather borrow methods?
  • What has been the influence of behavioral sciences, marketing and business studies on the development of behavioral economics?
  • What have been the effects of behavioral economics on public policy? Which role played public policy in the development of behavioral economics?
  • What have been the after effects of behavioral economics on the representation of utility and welfare? (Pigou, Boulding, Scitovsky, Easterlin, Happiness economics)
  • How has behavioral economics come into different fields of economics (finance, development economics, health economics, social choice, public economics, normative economics)?
  • The historical development of neuroeconomics and its links with psychology.
  • The role of normative considerations in the development of behavioral economics, and the links between normative and behavioral economics.


If you are interested in participating in this conference, please send a notification of interest mentioning the theme of your contribution by June 10th 2014 and an abstract of approximately 1000 words prepared for blind review by July 10th 2014. Send your abstract by email at eco-psycho@rationalite.org  with the following information:

Name and surname

Affiliation

Title of your contribution

Abstract


The arbitrariness of well-being measures: family mealtimes and Facebook enrollment

Mark D. White

Family eatingLast week I submitted the manuscript for a book that argues that all measures of well-being or happiness are arbitrary and reflect the judgments of those who designed them, rather than the interests of the people whose well-being is ostensibly measured. (A precis of sorts for the book appeared in this article, published late last year.)

Last week The Telegraph provided a perfect (if a bit outrageous) example of this in an article titled "Family mealtimes to become official measure of national ‘happiness’." The article begins:

Eating meals together as a family is to be officially recognised as a mark of happiness as part of David Cameron’s plan to measure Britain’s national “well-being”.

For the first time, the number British families who maintain traditional mealtimes is to be monitored, under plans to expand the so-called “happiness” index.

Children as young as 10 are to be asked how often they argue with their parents and whether they are being bullied at school, including Internet bullying.

They will also be asked to share how they feel about their personal appearance, whether they can confide in their parents about problems and whether they have signed up to social networking sites such as Facebook.

Before I get to the broader issue here, let me say that these "elements of happiness" are not uncontroversial. Family mealtimes are usually good, sure, but being signed up to Facebook? The latter has been linked with some measures of happiness, and some have even questioned the mental health of people who aren't on Facebook. But this is hardly a settled matter, and it seems hasty (at best) to suggesting using Facebook enrollment in official government statistics meant to guide policymaking. (I hope you can appreciate the self-restraint required in keeping this paragraph relatively snark-free.)

There are good arguments for composite indices of well-being (such as the United Nations' Human Development Index), but this latest effort by the British government seems more like a kitchen sink approach to measuring well-being. Are public policy decisions seriously going to be taken based on Facebook enrollment and family mealtime frequency? Do British policymakers actually think this will capture the well-being of their citizens accurately enough to guide policy decisions in their interests?

Clearly somebody feels that these aspects of life are important to the well-being of the British people. This is what philosopher Sissela Bok meant when, in her book Exploring Happiness, she compared happiness measures to Rorschach tests: they often reveal more about those who designed them then about those whose happiness they are used to assess. The question is whether any haphazard collection of statistics about daily life—even those shown to have some connection to some measure of well-being—can hope to accurately capture the interests of any one person, much less a nation's entire population, in order to ground responsible and effective policy decisions.

In the article linked above and my forthcoming book, I argue that the answer is a resounding no. A person's interests are complex, multifaceted, and subjective, and they're combined and balanced in ever-shifting ways by his or her judgment before they issue in a choice that reflects them. No statistical measure of happiness or well-being can even begin to approach people's true interests, and governments should stop pretending they can. This practice is ineffective, wasteful, and—more important—disrespectful to their citizens' right to live their lives as they wish (consistent with all other dong the same).

Instead, I argue that governments should focus on restructing laws and other institutions to enable the maximal freedom possibe for people to pursue their own interests, while focusing on addressing problems that present themselves—minimizing suffering where it exists rather than trying to maximize well-being according to measures they invent.


Have economists ignored clinical depression?

Mark D. White

ScienceA recent issue of Science (October 5, 2012) is a special issue on depression, and senior editor Peter Stern's introduction lays out the reason for it (emphasis mine):

Depression is a devastating disease. It affects not only the directly afflicted but also the people around them, their families, and their closest relations. It indiscriminately hits all strata of society, no matter one’s intellectual background, age group, or economic situation. There are many cases of highly successful and widely admired individuals who have been struggling with depression for years. Unfortunately, for reasons we still do not fully understand, this condition has been on the rise over the past decades. Considering its impact on an individual’s quality of life and subsequently on the economy and society in general, gaining an understanding of what causes depression and trying to develop effective therapies is of utmost importance. Hence, this year’s Neuroscience Special Issue is devoted to different aspects of depression.

I've long wondered why economists don't look more at both the microeconomic and macroeconomic effects of clinical depression. (I'm careful to add the modifier "clinical" because economists do, of course, spend a lot of time thinking about depressions, Great or otherwise.) Behavioral economists identify, quantify, and model the cognitive biases and dysfunctions that affect the choices of the average person, but have not yet (to my knowledge) looked into how depression affects decision-making. As Dr. Stern recognizes, choices affected by depression--given reported high rates of incidence of the disease--have potentially tremendous economic effects, not only on personal well-being but also on market outcomes, aggregate economic performance, and government policy.

BeckThere are many theories of depression in psychology, but one that seems extraordinarily well-suited to incorporating the effects of depression into economic models of choice is cognitive psychology, as typified by the work of Aaron Beck. Beck maintains “the individual’s problems are derived largely from certain distortions of reality based on erroneous premises and assumptions” (Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders, p. 3). Examples of this negative thinking include: dichotomous reasoning (everything is either black or white, failure or success), selective abstraction (focusing on failures and glossing over successes), and overgeneralization (exaggerating the importance and incidence of failures). In economic terms, these have obvious effects on beliefs and preferences, the foundation of decisions in the mainstream model of choice.

Depressives also report a lack of motivation or "paralysis of the will" that makes them less likely to act decisively to further their goals. In the mainstream economic model of choice, this can be be regarded once again as a result of distorted perceived benefits and costs (downplaying the former and emphasizing the latter) which result in a bias toward inaction (or at least decisional inertia).

This is just one possible framework, and there are many others. I believe that behavioral economists could work within such a framework to refine the cognitive and conative effects of depression on decision-making. Behavioral economists have already told us that we're "presumably irrational"--now it's time to turn to the members of society who are "presumably depressed."


Much (More) Ado about Happiness

Mark D. White

In this morning's Wall Street Journal, James Bovard pokes a little fun at the US government's plans for measuring gross domesic happiness (of which Nicolas Sarkozy was a leading advocate), pointing to how well they currently measure the myriad economic statistics regarding things that aren't entirely subjective. Many economists take this very seriously, however; as it happens, I'm currently working on several projects that, to some extent, deal with this issue (as is Deirdre McCloskey, if I remember correctly). The literature is recent but already vast: a marvelous summary and critique can be found in Daniel Hausman's 2010 Economics and Philosophy article, "Hedonism and Welfare Economics."

My take, in a nutshell, is that measuring happiness is neither feasible nor desirable. It is not feasible because happiness is irreconciliably multifaceted (along several dimensions) and inescapably subjective. It is not desirable because any official focus on happiness violates ideals of liberal neutrality and personal autonomy regarding persons' individual pursuit of the "good life," and the measurement of such can only lead to excessive government manipulation (if not paternalism) towards that imposed end (as Bovard describes). Rather, institutions should be established and maintained to ensure that person have the maximal capacity to make choices in pursuit of their own interests consistent with all others doing the same. Only such a system can ensure respect for persons' own interests and the choices they make towards them.


Call for papers: Well-being in Contemporary Society

Mark D. White

International Conference on the Philosophy and Science of Well-being and their Practical Importance

Location: University of Twente, Enschede, Netherlands

Date: July 26-27, 2012

Program Chair:                 
Philip Brey (University of Twente)

Organising committee:                
Johnny Hartz Søraker (University of Twente)
Pak-Hang Wong (University of Twente)
Jan-Willem van der Rijt (University of Amsterdam)
Jelle de Boer (University of Amsterdam)

About the Conference

In recent years, well-being has enjoyed a renaissance in philosophical discussions, as well as in fields like psychology, economics, development studies and sociology. Although these approaches share a common goal – to better understand what well-being is and how it can be enhanced – these developments have led to a great diversity in philosophical and scientific approaches to the analysis of well-being. Despite the increasing amount of research, most of the work on well-being is also performed at a highly abstract level. This is especially true in philosophy, but relatively little work has been devoted to the application of theories of well-being also in other fields, in particular when it comes to an understanding of life in contemporary society. Developments such as globalization, consumerism, and the rapid innovation and use of new and emerging technologies, all exert significant impact on the well-being of people living today, and we need a better understanding of their consequences for well-being.

Contemporary society requires that well-being researchers examine these problems – and, if possible, propose solutions to address them. This international conference aims to bring together researchers from various disciplines, including, but not limited to, psychology, economics, sociology, philosophy and development studies, in order to examine the practical role of well-being in contemporary society.

Potential Topics

We are looking for contributions that examine the notion of well-being in the context of contemporary society. The conference particularly welcomes papers that employ a notion of well-being to address social, political and ethical issues in present-day society. Suggested topics for the workshop include, but are not limited to:

  • Theoretical developments and approaches in the philosophy and science of well-being in relation to contemporary society, culture and life.
  • Well-being in social and political philosophy and/or in policy studies
  • Positive psychology (and related research fields) and its practical applicability
  • New and emerging technologies and well-being
  • Intercultural and interpersonal comparisons of well-being
  • Reliability, validity and applicability of well-being measures
  • Other specific practical issues pertaining to well-being in contemporary society

The workshop will include both invited papers and an open call for papers. For the open call, we invite extended abstracts (1500-2000 words).  Please anonymise the abstract, and include title, name and address in the accompanying email. The abstract, and any questions you may have about the conference, should be sent to wics2012@utwente.nl. Your abstract should be submitted before February 15th 2012, and will be subject to blind peer review.

Publication

Following the conference we aim to publish the papers, subject to a blind review process, in either an edited volume or a special issue of a relevant journal. We did so successfully with our previous conference, Good Life In a Technological Age, from which select papers were published as book in the prestigious Routledge Studies in Science, Technology and Society series, and will be available in February 2012.

Important Dates

Abstract Submission Deadline: February 15. 2012
Notification of Acceptance: March 1, 2012
Conference Dates: July 26-27, 2012


I may suck, but not as much as you

Mark D. White

Please excuse the flippant title, and get ready for a bit of a rant. (Listen--it's almost Friday, and it's been a rough couple of weeks.)

I'll start with a old joke: Two campers are in the woods when they spot a bear heading toward them. One camper starts running while the other bends down to carefully tie his shoes. The first camper yells back to his friend, "do you really think that will help you outrun the bear?" The second camper yells back, "I don't need to outrun the bear--I just need to outrun you."

I was reminded of that joke when reading a Real Time Economics blog post at The Wall Street Journal's site a couple weeks ago about a recent study on "last-place aversion." In the paper (available here), the authors report on experiments in which the participants were found more likely to take gambles that might boost their social ranking (rather than certain payoffs of equivalent expected value), and to forego costless action to help those worse off than themselves, the lower in the ranking they were to begin with. The authors use these results to support individuals' aversion to being at the bottom of the social ranking, preferring to have at least one person or group to look down upon.

I don't doubt the findings or the interpretation, but they sadden me. In fact, the entire concept of relative preferences and well-being disturbs me and always has. The idea that many (perhaps most) people base their feelings of satisfaction and happiness on what the folks next door have rather than on their own needs and desires--assuming they even have their own needs and desires--is ironically and tragically counterproductive in the aggregate. (On this I agree with Robert Frank, though not on his policy recommendations based on it.)

Maybe this unconscious desire to one-up our peers has an evolutionary basis--it would certainly seem to inspire a striving for material (and thereby reproductive) success--but it also seems to vary widely on cultural grounds (being much more pronounced in the U.S. than in Europe, for instance). (I thank Dr. Maryanne Fisher for her insights on this point.) But just because it's natural doesn't make it good or right--thank you, G.E. Moore--and just as we strive to counter other hardwired inclinations toward prejudice and oppression toward others, I would hope we would reject those which represent an attitude of disrepect toward ourselves.

It strikes me as horribly inauthentic to subsume your own standards of well-being, happiness, and satisfaction for other people's, especially if it leads to a counterproductive "race to the top" in which no one's intrinsic preferences are satisfied. I said as much here about two years ago (focusing on status goods like Starbucks coffee, which I now drink regularly, thanks to the same Dr. Fisher), so I won't rehash those arguments. Nonetheless... argh.

Don't get me wrong, researchers in psychology and economics do us a great service in highlighting these unconscious dispositions. But where are the voices crying out to restrain them, to orient our decision-making more towards activities that will satisfy our desires rather than simply make us feel good compared to our neighbors? Dr. Frank decries what Thorstein Veblen termed conspicuous consumption, certainly, but he focuses policy changes such as steeply progressive tax rates to "solve" the problem. This is to treat the symptoms rather than the disease (as behavioral economists are wont to do). Once we recognize our flaws we don't have to take them as given--but we have to make the effort.

And we shouldn't want for the people next door to do it first.


When economics and philosophy divorced...

Mark D. White

In a recent "The Shrink and the Sage" piece in the Financial Times Magazine, Julian Baggini (prolific popularizer of philosophy) and Antonia Macaro discuss the pursuit of happiness, which is very interesting in itself, but I was particularly amused by how Baggini started his half of the discussion:

When psychology and philosophy filed for divorce about 100 years ago, they faced the common dilemma of how to divide the book collection. In the end, psychology left most of the volumes on happiness and the good life with philosophy, which dutifully left them to gather dust. Now that psychology has returned to the subject with gusto, there is an urgent need to dig them out again.

Of course, economics and philosophy had their own break-up, perhaps a little earlier, so it may be fun to ask: how did they divide their book collection? Some speculation...

  • Economics only took one Adam Smith book--but didn't read it--and philosophy lost the rest for years.
  • Economics was more than happy to take the Bentham, but forgot the Mill (both the philosophy and economics).
  • Most tragically, economics chose to take the calculus books rather than Kant--and we all know how that turned out.

Any others?


New book: Julia Annas, Intelligent Virtue

Mark D. White

Annas I was very excited today to receive the new book from Julia Annas (and Oxford University Press), Intelligent Virtue, in the mail:

Intelligent Virtue presents a distinctive new account of virtue and happiness as central ethical ideas. Annas argues that exercising a virtue involves practical reasoning of a kind which can illuminatingly be compared to the kind of reasoning we find in someone exercising a practical skill. Rather than asking at the start how virtues relate to rules, principles, maximizing, or a final end, we should look at the way in which the acquisition and exercise of virtue can be seen to be in many ways like the acquisition and exercise of more mundane activities, such as farming, building or playing the piano. This helps us to see virtue as part of an agent's happiness or flourishing, and as constituting (wholly, or in part) that happiness. We are offered a better understanding of the relation between virtue as an ideal and virtue in everyday life, and the relation between being virtuous and doing the right thing.