Can animals feel happiness?

by florence.delage on December 15, 2017 - 7:15pm

Many societies, especially western societies, worry more and more about animals’ rights. Animals have the right to live free from harm in many countries in Canada, but can they tell the difference? In order words, do animals have the capacity to be happy? It is important to consider if farm animals, wild animals and domestic animals can be happy and how.

 

Animals can experience different complex emotions, like anxiety, love and empathy. Their capacity to feel these emotions is sometimes underrated. For example, elephants can differentiate between a voice that is friendly and a voice that wants to harm them.(What are animals thinking and feeling? | Carl Safina, 2015) In a way, they can determine which human is more likely to contribute to their happiness or well-being. Wild animals associate happiness with, among other things, survival. Of course, wild animals show fear when their liberty is threatened. Simple reactions of fear show us their desire for freedom, a part of their well-being or happiness.

 

Concerning farming, animals’ happiness can be easily shown. A study in the UK showed that their happiness can be measured. For example, farm animals produce better products (meat,dairy,eggs) when they are ‘happier’. By measuring their quality of life and their level of anxiety, experts have observed that there are specific criteria  to evaluate in order to qualify a chicken to be happy, for example, the chicken has social behaviours, they are comfortable and healthy. (Miele, 2011, p. 2084) Companies often say that free-range animals are happier, because they have more space to live and are living in a more natural way. Of course the animal is happier, but this is, among other things, a marketing strategy to make us humans feel better.

 

Certain domestic animals, like dogs, seem to experience happiness differently. Of course, domestic animals worry much less about their survival as wild animals or even farm animals, so they can spend more time experiencing simple pleasures. Dogs are known to be very, happy("Yes, Animals Think And Feel. Here's How We Know," 2015)  , one could hypothesise that they have a wider set range, or capacity to feel happiness. Dogs might even experience flow during a highly engaging activity like playing with their owner.  

 

In order to understand that animals can feel happiness, it is essential to demonstrate that they can also feel the opposite. Animals are also able to feel negative emotions, in fact, they can even feel very complex emotions like grief. Grief has been observed in wild and captive animals. For example, a psychologist noted that a goose showed the symptoms of grief when its partner died: its eyes sank, its head was mostly down, etc.("Grief in animals: It's arrogant to think we're the only animals who mourn," 2009) Furthermore, all kinds of animals are able are not only able to experience bodily pleasures, like when they get to eat, they can also feel higher pleasures, that are observable for example when they give birth.("Animal Emotions: Exploring Passionate Natures: Current interdisciplinary research provides compelling evidence that many animals experience such emotions as joy, fear, love, despair, and grief?we are not alone | BioScience | Oxford Academic," 2000)

 

Although they experience them differently, wild animals, farm animals and domestic animals feel a range of complex emotions and can feel happiness. Their happiness and well-being should not be doubted anymore and humans should make it a priority to treat them with respect of their physical and emotional needs to live more ethically.

 

References

Animal Emotions: Exploring Passionate Natures: Current interdisciplinary research provides compelling evidence that many animals experience such emotions as joy, fear, love, despair, and grief?we are not alone | BioScience | Oxford Academic. (2000, October 1). Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/50/10/861/233998

Grief in animals: It's arrogant to think we're the only animals who mourn. (2009, October 29). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animal-emotions/200910/grief-in-animals-its-arrogant-think-were-the-only-animals-who-mourn

Miele, M. (2011). The Taste of Happiness: Free-Range Chicken. Environment and Planning A, 43(9), 2076-2090. doi:10.1068/a43257

What are animals thinking and feeling? | Carl Safina [Video file]. (2015, December 17). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9KeyKVuLHU

Yes, Animals Think And Feel. Here's How We Know. (2015, July 15). Retrieved from https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/07/150714-animal-dog-thinking-feelings-brain-science/

 

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