Thursday, July 23, 2015

Chief Happiness Officers – send in the clowns?

This whole thing is getting out of hand. I don’t need an HR manager, who’s primary skill is in pay and rations, to be responsible for my emotional well-being. Since when did HR professionals turn into pseudo-psychotherapists? So you’ve read some populist paperback on ‘mindfulness’, attended some half-baked, Ponzi scheme course and now you feel qualified to rain happiness down on us all?
Happiness is a dumbed-up state
Despite the idea being widely rejected as simplistic by John Stuart Mill and almost every serious thinker that’s ever thought deeply on the subject, the idea that ‘happiness’ is the sole purpose of life, or even an end-in-itself, seems to have taken root in our therapeutic culture. Life is not a simple calculus of unhappiness/happiness. Even a cursory look at the complexity of feelings, emotions and behaviour make that idea seem childish. These simple distinctions; happiness=good/unhappiness=bad; positive feelings=good/negative feelings=bad, are puerile and misleading. These false binary narratives are all too easy. Even Seligman, the pied-piper of happiness came to reject the term.
The fake ‘wellness’ syndrome in the workplace is another spin on the happiness theme. But beware of words ending in –ness – wellness, mindfulness, happiness. They’re catch-all terms that purport to mean everything but in the end mean little or nothing. Life is not a course and life is not an illness. We don’t need an army of narcissists telling us what to feel and how to feel it.
Binary thinking
Unfortunately HR has caught a bad dose of ‘happy clapping’ and middle managers have latched onto the idea that we should try to engineer this happiness. You see it in the work-life balance debate (read work=unhappy, life=happy). You also see it within organisations, as hapless HR people try to take control of the emotional welfare of employees. Self-appointed armies of coaches, counsellors, mentors and therapists are crawling all over organisations searching for the pathological deficit. Everyday emotions and ordinary contention are diagnosed as illnesses and people with creepy ‘open questioning’ techniques come in to offer cures. This is not a plea for grumpiness, it’s a plea for realism and sanity, before the therapeutic brigade start seeing the whole of society as an asylum full of pathological patients who need to pay for their platitudes.
Chief Clowns

Every bit of psychobabble that comes along is scooped up by people who seem to be paid to read self-help books and turn them into courses. By all means create these ‘Chief Clown’ roles, but expect the ridicule you deserve. People deserve dignity at work, fair pay and conditions, a safe workplace and a good work environment. They’re adults, not children. You’re NOT a chief and my happiness is MY business. Finally, let me throw my own personal piece of psychobabble into the mix - people who constantly fret about being happy are usually, in fact, miserable sods who want to foist their own deep dissatisfaction with themselves, on others.


Charles Gould said...

"people who constantly fret about being happy are usually, in fact, miserable sods". If the reverse is true then I envy how happy you must be Donald! (I like the post though.)

Donald Clark said... a sandboy! ;)