Seeing the Harm to Happiness: Integrating Satisfaction With Life Into Restorative Practices

AuthorJeremy Olson,Rebecca S. Sarver,Brad Killian
Published date01 February 2023
Date01 February 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2023, Vol. 34(1) 88 –109
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/08874034221115337
Seeing the Harm to
Happiness: Integrating
Satisfaction With Life Into
Restorative Practices
Jeremy Olson1, Rebecca S. Sarver2,
and Brad Killian1
This article proposes an approach to intervening in harms that is based on the
integration of positive psychology and restorative justice. We begin by reviewing the
importance of interpersonal relationships to restorative justice. Next, we discuss
harms as viewed in restorative justice. We then explore the concept and language of
happiness through models of satisfaction with life (SWL) from positive psychology.
We end the article by proposing the integration of models of SWL into the practices
of restorative dialogue and the development of restoration plans.
restorative justice, satisfaction with life, positive criminology, positive psychology,
We all assess our lives in terms of happiness (Veenhoven, 2010). Happiness cuts across
culture, race, class, and circumstances (Cloutier & Pfeiffer, 2017; Myers & Diener,
1995). Happiness also cuts across systems, agencies, disciplines, and clients. Individual
happiness and community happiness are mutually reinforcing; improving one improves
the other (Cloutier & Pfeiffer, 2017; Myers, 1999), especially where there are strong
interpersonal connections and mutual reliance between members of the community
(Yazzie, 1996). The strength of the relationships within the community produces
1Penn State Wilkes-Barre, Dallas, PA, USA
2Elmira College, NY, USA
Corresponding Author:
Jeremy Olson, Criminal Justice, Penn State Wilkes-Barre, 44 University Drive, Dallas, PA 18612, USA.
1115337CJPXXX10.1177/08874034221115337Criminal Justice Policy ReviewOlson et al.
Olson et al. 89
shared norms and increased communication. A happy, well-connected community
with shared norms is more likely to be sustainable and benefit from decreased threats
to the community, such as criminal behavior (Cloutier & Pfeiffer, 2017).
The American criminal justice system has long recognized the importance of hap-
piness in decreasing criminal threats. One of its strongest underlying theories is that
of Rational Choice. Rational Choice Theory (RCT) suggests that people will weigh
the risks (pain) and benefits (happiness) associated with an action and take the course
of action that is most likely to result in more happiness than pain (Akers & Sellers,
2009; Bernard et al., 2015). Research has supported the contention that applying this
calculus can reduce offending (Paternoster & Pogarsky, 2009). The calculus can be
effective whether the pain is a formal sanction imposed by the system or an informal
sanction like the shunning of behavior by members of one’s community (Bachman
et al., 1992). Despite its underlying theory and knowledge about the potential to
reduce crime by increasing happiness, the system has remained punitive in nature.
Historically, the criminal justice system’s main response to crime has been to threaten
or inflict pain on (potential) offenders.
More recently, criminologists have been turning their attention to happiness.
Leaders in criminology have begun to call for research and practices that focus on the
development of positive skills and traits within offenders and potential offenders
(Nikolic-Ristanovic, 2014; Ronel & Elisha, 2011). Writers have begun to debate the
inclusion of a happiness perspective in risk–needs–responsivity assessments (Andrews
et al., 2011; Birgden, 2009; Ward et al., 2012; Wormith et al., 2012) and in restorative
justice (Walgrave et al., 2021). In addition, researchers are finding associations
between happiness and crime (MacDonald et al., 2005; Olson et al., 2020; Suldo &
Huebner, 2004). The present article continues the discussion about integrating happi-
ness into one of the areas of interest to American criminal justice, restorative justice.
Specifically, we call for teaching the language of the models of satisfaction with life
(SWL) and incorporating the domains of these models into restorative dialogue and
the development of restoration plans. We believe that this approach complements and
strengthens restorative efforts to build strong interpersonal relationships and transform
harms. We also believe this approach will result in more personalized restoration
plans. Because they are more personalized, we believe that essential people are more
likely to follow through with those plans and repair harms. We begin the discussion
with relationships.
The Web of Relationships
Strong interpersonal relationships are the core of restorative justice and restorative
practices (Vaandering, 2013; Zehr, 2015a, 2015b). Restorative justice acknowledges
that we are all interconnected in a broad context that includes family and community
(Davis, 2019; Zehr, 2015b). This interconnectedness forms a web of relationships and
connections such that events that happen to any one person in the web will have some
level of effect or impact on everyone in the web (Yazzie, 1996; Zehr, 2015a). Figure 1
demonstrates our vision of this web.

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