The politics of happiness encourages us to accept our lot, breathing life back into the patronising idea that you can be ‘poor but happy’.
…There are many reasons why happiness, thus conceived, was widely embraced. Most significantly, many implicitly accept Margaret Thatcher’s famous mantra that ‘there is no alternative’ to capitalism (TINA). If we cannot hope to change society in real, material terms, then individual minds and behaviours become some of the few sites open to change. With the political outlook narrowed in this way, ideas like ‘rediscovering happiness’ as the ultimate goal of society can sound radical, utopian even. They also offer a way of bypassing uncertain political identities, connecting with people using the lowest common denominator. After all, who doesn’t want to be happy?
But constructing issues in such broadly agreeable terms makes it difficult to imagine how they might be challenged or opposed. Everyone seemingly agrees that ‘money can’t buy happiness’. The problem with the politics of happiness is that it abstracts this emotion from individual and social experience, and makes it into a flat, measurable policy objective. I have no idea what the future holds, in the same way that no one in 1800, if they had been handed a ‘happiness survey’, would have rated themselves less happy in the expectation of modern innovations like access to electricity. Each generation finds happiness in accordance with the world they take for granted. As a measure of ‘progress’, happiness defaults to an affirmation of the present as the best of all possible worlds.