On happiness, values, and time: The long and the short of it

Joel Robbins


All of the contributors to this collection on happiness provide us with accounts in which the usual ethnographic focus on what we might call the “thick temporal middle” gives way to discussions of people’s concerns with intense momentary experiences of happiness, on the one hand, or very long-term judgments about the happiness of whole lives, on the other. More than this, many of the contributors examine how people try to connect these two time-spans, often taken to be representative of hedonic and eudaimonic versions of happiness, respectively. Starting from these observations, I work to develop an account that relates happiness to values and then both to temporality. Drawing on Durkheim’s rarely noted account of the way in which effervescence creates or reveals values, I suggest a model of how the connection between happiness and temporality is constructed in social life, and I consider differences in this process of construction in societies dominated by tendencies toward value pluralism and those dominated by value monism. Along with aiming to bring out some of the key collective findings of this collection on happiness, then, this essay aims to make a contribution to the recent resurgence of value theory in anthropology.


happiness, values, temporality, value pluralism, monism, Durkheim

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau5.3.012