Article | Social Psychological & Personality Science

Is Life Nasty, Brutish, and Short? Philosophies of Life and Well-Being

by Michael I. Norton, Lalin Anik, Lara B. Aknin and Elizabeth W. Dunn


Three studies examine the extent to which laypeople endorse Thomas Hobbes' (1651) view of life as "nasty, brutish, and short" and explore the relationships between this philosophy and well-being. We asked participants to answer two binary choice questions: Is life short or long? And, is life easy or hard? Across a series of studies, the majority of participants indicated that they believed that life is short and hard, while the opposite philosophy, that life is long and easy, was least popular. In addition, these philosophies were correlated with participants' views of their lives: the short-hard philosophy was associated with lower levels of well-being (Studies 1-3), civic engagement (Study 2), and optimism about the future (Study 3), compared to the long-easy philosophy.

Keywords: Happiness; Satisfaction; Welfare or Wellbeing;


Norton, Michael I., Lalin Anik, Lara B. Aknin, and Elizabeth W. Dunn. "Is Life Nasty, Brutish, and Short? Philosophies of Life and Well-Being." Social Psychological & Personality Science 2, no. 6 (November 2011): 570–575.