SOC327 2017 Tut12 – Thu 1030

Who doesn’t want to be happy? The last few decades have seen a great rise in the pursuit of happiness. Not the Aristotelian pursuit of a virtuous, well rounded emotional life, nor the Jeffersonian pursuit of happiness through liberty as an ‘inalienable right’, nor even the Utilitarian pursuit of happiness as the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’. Rather, there has been a surge of interest in measuring and planning for the happiness of nations. The OECD now tracks wellbeing measures across countries, Bhutan has pioneered in interest in Gross National Happiness (GNH) over GDP as a measure of societal progress, and the UK is interested in findings ‘happy places’ by measuring wellbeing and happiness by geographic location. Happiness is clearly now an important measure of social progress.

And yet happiness is still largely individualised as an emotion. Despite studies by world happiness experts like Ruut Veenhoven showing that happiness is clearly linked to social structural conditions in that it varies substantially across rich, poor and unequal nations, the treatments for happiness are still largely individualised. Medication and therapy – including mass therapy, or a societal/national foci on promoting mindfulness, positive psychology and CBT – are put forward as the means for resolving unhappiness, even when changes in economic and work conditions, family, gender, ethnic, and age structures, and urban and social connection may be the primary culprits in causing unhappiness. Can the proliferation of lists on how to be happy in 5, 7, 13, or 25 ‘science-backed’ easy (and obviously non-contradictory …) steps really compensate for broader social change?

And what about other emotions? How much of our unhappiness is about rising anxiety, depression, stress and anger? How much of our happiness depends on peace, contentment and love? And how much does our happiness – in all its related emotional forms – depend on what we are doing, rather than how we might sum up our lives on a 0 to 10 scale of satisfaction? In previous research, my colleague Kimberly Fisher and I found (unexpectedly) that Americans would enjoy their time less if they lived like Australians, because they would spend more time doing unpleasant things like housework, and less time doing fun things like having people over for dinner. We also found that the GFC seemed to have the effect of helping Americans re-evaluate the quality of their time, and enjoy the grind of work less and the pleasantness of social and family time more. Clearly, reflecting on and adjusting the social circumstances and lives that make us happy is an important element on our actual happiness. Mary Holmes calls this emotional reflexivity, or “an embodied, cognitive and relational process in which social actors have feelings about and try to understand and alter their lives in relation to their social and natural environment and to others.”

I say – as I always do with regards to all matters sociological – that structure and agency go hand in hand in the consideration of our happiness. We can change the world – and we can change ourselves – one emotion at a time, with reflection and awareness. I say that we need to be reflexive about what makes us happy (how society affects us), what makes others happy (how we affect society), if there are contradictions and inequalities in happiness, and when it is appropriate to beshow, or change our happiness, unhappiness, or other emotions – rather than assuming we should always try and be simply happy as a default for living. If we can do these things, I think we can start to really understand what it means to be happy in today’s society, and to understand and build truly happy societies.

What do you think?

#S327UOW17 #Tut12 #Thu1030

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  1. Because there are different associations and translations for the word ‘happy’ and ‘happiness’ across cultures and languages, it makes it hard to measure concepts of happiness across different cultures and societies due to the fact that the definition of happiness changes depending on the country and culture. In the article, “concepts of happiness across time and culture” by Oishi et al, he finds that out of 30 countries examined, 24 of those countries’ definitions of the word ‘happy’ included luck or fortuned-based concepts, while the other 6 did not. This discrepancy is just one aspect that makes it hard to measure ‘happiness’ across different cultures and societies around the world. Although biological sources of happiness cannot be changed and are similar in all of humanity, social factors vary. #Tut12 #Thurs1030

  2. Swimming with the emotional current rather than against it may save us from drowning #S327UOW17 #Tut12 #Thurs1030

    I think that it is wrong to assume that happiness is a static mental state that must be achieved by and for all. By placing ‘happiness’ upon an emotional pedestal it becomes a highly sought after ‘object’ to be attained by the ‘individual’, as something that may be bought, sold, or exchanged. The key to ‘happiness’, and its associated social and individual benefits, resides within an understanding of the way in which social and individual wellbeing interacts in meaningful ways. I would agree that emotional reflexivity; defined as “an emotional and cognitive process in which social actors have feelings about and try to understand and alter their lives in relation to their social and natural environment and to others” (Holmes 2010, p.140) can impact positively upon individual, and thus social, wellbeing. I would suggest that emotional reflexivity may assist an individual in restructuring more progressive associations with their emotions by de-individualising the emotional process. Sadness should not be regarded as negatively delimiting the social experience but rather as enhancing social connectivity and awareness due to its ability to promote empathy, greater communication and judgement (Forgas 2017).

  3. Ours is a consumer culture, where economic and material prosperity are the markers of happiness and success. In today’s advanced societies, material advantage has a negative effect on happiness. This is because we are constantly comparing ourselves relative to others. Holmes describes these comparisons as ‘aesthetic reflexivity’; where value and trust are conferred to people, processes and things that are aesthetically pleasing to us. If something makes us happy, it is of value to us and we trust it will improve our circumstances. The pursuit of individual happiness has become obsession such that what makes others happy is of little concern. This is likely to produce isolated individuals and decrease the social capital of society. This goes some way to explaining the apparent acceptance of social inequalities present in neoliberal countries. #SOC327UOW17 #Tut 12 #Thu1030

  4. Happiness is experienced differently historically and culturally as all emotions are. Which makes it hard to understand what is universally regarded as happiness other than a generally positive feeling we experience. The biological creation of happiness may be seen as a universal outcome, however social factors and constructions of happiness differ for everybody.

    #tut12 #thu1030

  5. Across cultures, time and place the meaning of happiness has altered. Happiness is fluid and adaptable to each person, group and societal structure that exists. For me, happiness has become an object of commodification where people consume in the hope that they will reach an ultimate happy state. This will not achieve happiness and in a sense only dull the emotional needs of a person and society. I would agree that emotionally reflexivity would benefit societal systems in the pursuit of happiness. Sadness, confusion, hurt and pain are all important feelings to be felt, and defaulting happiness will ultimately be more detrimental to the success of our combined societal social and cultural spheres. I personally believe that happiness stems from experiencing the intensity of sadness, hurt and pain as it teaches you and society as a whole empathy,compassion and love.

  6. Happiness is deemed as different by every individual within society, therefore to define what happiness is would be to assume that all individuals are the same. Many factors such as cultural difference and other emotions correlating with each other in order to create this emotion change how we define and feel this emotion of happiness.
    There are also layers of happiness that create many dimensions of the term.

  7. It was interesting to read the Fowler & Christakis (2008) study. One of the things that stood out to me was that happy people are at the centre of their networks are more likely to be happier than people on the periphery, but that happiness does not cause network centrality. Personal happiness has so much to do with our interactions with other people in our society that it’s a bit strange that it’s considered to be a personal crusade.

    I do think it’s important to note that pursuit of happiness is a right, not happiness itself, which I agree with because as much as it goes hand in hand with your community, I do think that you choose whether or not you’re going to be happy.

  8. Happiness varies across societies and individuals themselves. Everyone finds their happiness from different things. I think interacting with people in society is a key feature on gaining happiness. People with similar interests and ideas can come together and embrace what they find makes them happy.

    #S327UOW17 #Tut12 #Thu1030

  9. In regard to happiness, I agree with you Roger. In your lecture recently, you noted that happiness can change depending on the social and cultural context of the situation…

    A few students in this discussion thread have noted said that happiness is experienced differently within other cultures. Veenhoven’s work (2005) also proves that happiness is linked to social structural conditions like income and social status. With this in mind, yes we can change our happiness, but it all depends on circumstance.

    We definitely need to work on understanding the nature of happiness and its links to society further. Studies like Veenhoven’s, yourself and Kimberly Fisher’s and many others are a step in the right direction as they allow us to understand what makes us and others happy while bringing context into perspective. I find Eva Illouz’s work (2008) particularly interesting, as it presents happiness as being perceived as an individualised commodity that is earned through therapy, exercise, positive psychology and medication. I totally agree that if we can get past this idea that happiness is an individual possession, and that we need to present ourselves as being happy all the time, we would begin to understand the true meaning of happiness and build happier societies.

  10. Happiness is challenging to be defined as it means differently to everyone. People with different culture, race, gender and age follow a different definition of happiness in their life. Bartram (2012) defines happiness as a “positive emotional State” suggesting people who can experience positive moods easily are more likely to be happy and enjoy the happiness. In my opinion, if happy people transfer their ability of experiencing positive moods to other individuals in the society, everyone would experience the happiness.

  11. This is the first time I have come across the term and concept of reflexively in relation to emotions. Holmes defines reflexivity as ‘an achievement that describes the mediatory process via which people react to the situations they find themselves in’ (p. 143). I do agree that individual happiness is affected by our capacity to react and respond positively to social circumstances/structures. We do need to be reflexive when navigating through the pressures of life and society, but to maintain a constant state of happiness and positive attitude is not possible as we are only human. I do believe that we can build happier societies through awareness of our reactions to others and situations, but it is easier said than done.

  12. I don’t think that there is one universal way to describe what ‘happiness’ is. Happiness is subjective and circumstantial. It’s important to note that happiness is different to each and every person and each of those individuals will feel it in varying ways and for different periods of time. It doesn’t need to be felt constantly because I would argue if we were always happy we wouldn’t be an emotionally intelligent group of people. An individual needs to feel an array of emotions to fully understand themselves.

  13. To describe the subjective emotion of happiness is a difficult task. To have an emotion that is brought upon by different stimulus with varying effects across differing individuals is in itself an example of its complexity. To add to this complexity, different underlying emotions can affect how we perceive our own happiness, and further determine when happiness becomes the dominant emotion when other unpleasant emotions that are felt (such as anger or sadness) are dependent upon countless variables within the individual.

    I personally believe that the essence of happiness is satisfaction. Of course there are other elements such as the absence of worry or the recognition of positives in life, but at its core I believe that these contribute to the satisfaction of life that comes with it.
    ‘The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time’ is indicative of this satisfaction with life how it is, and how it is also something that is recognisably subjective.

  14. Happiness is very subjective and contextual. Its a personal measurement of what you consider to be happiness. Some people would define it as the absence of any negative feelings whilst others might describe happiness as a more euphoric feeling. Personally I am somewhere in the middle and think that happiness can be achieved in most situations, very rarely would I describe myself as unhappy.

    #S327UOW17 #Tut12 #Thu1030

  15. The ‘pursuit of happiness’ is what drives human beings and societies. Individuals work in often miserable jobs in pursuit of happiness in the form of a holiday, or people may have children in the hope the offspring will provide them with joy. Yet, the pursuit of happiness is a fallacy. The level of happiness one feels varies across the course of a lifetime. It is highly individual, as what makes some individuals happy does not translate to the happiness of others. The level of happiness one feels variers across cultures, socio-economic status, education, religion and gender, which was reaffirmed by Helliwell & Putnam (2004) as he suggested “an individual’s social location…has been shown in many studies to be predictive of subjective well-being”. Happiness is not a concept that can be easily measured, and often in the pursuit of happiness, individuals can be blind to daily joys that provide a sense of ecstasy.

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