The Idea of Happiness

Ashis Nandy in Economic & Political Weekly:

CulturePrize78imagejaIn 2007, one of Britain’s leading schools, Wellington College at Crowthorne, announced that it would offer classes on happiness to combat materialism and celebrity obsession. The following year, New Scientist summarised the results of a 65-country survey to show that the highest proportion of happy persons lived in, of all places, Nigeria, followed by Mexico, Venezuela, El Salvador and Puerto Rico. It is true that happiness surveys differ in their findings. According to some, happiness has much to do with prosperity, levels of development and healthcare; according to others, these things do not matter. It is the second set that has produced countries like Vanuatu, a former happiest country in the world that most have not heard of, and last year’s world champion in happiness, Bangladesh, which many believe could well qualify as one of the world’s unhappiest countries. In comparison, some of the richest nations languish near the bottom of the list.

However, I am not concerned here with comparative happiness or the methodology of studying happiness. I am concerned with the emergence of happiness as a measur­able, autonomous, manageable, psychological variable in the global middle-class culture. And the two events can be read as parts of the same story. If the first factoid – discovery of happiness as a teachable discipline – suggests that in some parts of the world happiness is becoming a realm of training, guidance and expertise, the second reaffirms the ancient “self-consoling” “naïve” belief that you cannot always be happy just by virtue of being wealthy, secure or occupied. You have to learn to be happy.

Together they partly explain why clenched-teeth pursuit of happiness has become a major feature and a discovery of our times.

More here.