Blog book reviews are usually glowing, but I read an awful book recently, Richard Laynard’s ‘Happiness’. 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.
Unfortunately government has caught a bad dose of ‘happy clapping’ and ministers 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. Everyday emotions and ordinary contention are diagnosed as illnesses and people with creepy ‘open questioning’ techniques come in to offer cures. By the way, is there anything more creepy than the current Pamela Stephenson series on TV. It’s patronising garbage. No wonder Billy Connolly’s no longer funny.
Furedi - Why the ‘politics of happiness’ makes me mad
Frank Furedi, one of the few sane commentators on this topic, has en excellent article in Spiked (thanks to Dan Travis), ‘Why the ‘politics of happiness’ makes me mad - If you’re unhappy with state-sponsored happiness programmes, clap your hands’.
He objects to ministers buying the whole happiness kick, as if all would be well with regular doses of happiness counselling are the solution. He rejects the government’s attempt to raise our happiness levels with officialdom poking its nose at every juncture into our emotional welfare.
What ever happened to contention? I don’t want people to fill in ‘happy-sheets’ when I speak at a conference. If anything I want to disturb them, make them think again, disrupt their existing beliefs. Why attend a conference to hear someone simply confirm what you already know and believe? If you want happiness go to a comedy club. Everyone knows you forget jokes as soon as the laughter has died down. Happiness is a dumbed-up state. This is not a plea for grumpiness, although, like most people my age I find that quality quite endearing, 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.