I hereby challenge Tyler Cowen and Daniel Gilbert to debate whether happiness research constitutes an empirical science. Tyler pointed to this essay by Gilbert.

if the Red Sox and the Yankees were scoreless until Manny Ramirez hit a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth, you can be sure that Boston fans would remember it as the best game of the season. Memories are dominated by their most powerful—and not their most typical—instances. Just as a glorious game-winning homer can erase our memory of 8 1/2 dull innings

My basic issue with happiness research, which arises in this paragraph, is that it does not have an operational definition of what it is measuring.I think that statements like “X makes people happy” are faux-empirical. You have no business making such claims when you don’t have a clear definition of happiness to begin with.

When you ask somebody to rate their happiness, what does the answer mean? Does it indicate a universal, biological human phenomenon? I doubt it. Would a Yankee fan be happy after this game?

But if whether a Ramirez walk-off home run makes you happy or not depends on which team you were rooting for, can we be confident about generalizations that we make about whether being a father makes you happy (the main subject of Gilbert’s essay)? I don’t see how.