Mariana Alessandri in the New York Times:
I had just arrived home from my summer vacation — a week in a Minnesota cabin whose brochure warned “no crabbiness allowed” — when I came upon a study that declared New York the “unhappiest city in America.” I doubt many people were surprised by the results — New Yorkers, both in lore and reality, can be hard to please, and famously outspoken about their grievances — but as a born-and-raised New Yorker, and as a philosopher, I was suspicious of how the study defined happiness.
The survey in question, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, asked how “satisfied” Americans were with their lives — very satisfied, satisfied, dissatisfied or very dissatisfied. But the National Bureau of Economic Research used the data to conclude things about their “happiness.” Some might not have minded that the terms satisfaction and happiness were used interchangeably, but I did. The study was titled “Unhappy Cities,” and the headlines that followed it came out swinging against New Yorkers.
I was certain that a person (even a New Yorker) could be both dissatisfied and happy at once, and that the act of complaining was not in fact evidence of unhappiness, but something that could in its own way lead to greater happiness.
At times like this I appreciate philosophers’ respect for words, and a number of them have argued to keep happiness separate from satisfaction.