SOC327 2017 Tut12 – Wed 1530

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?

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Posted in Uncategorized.


  1. Happiness can’t be defined as easily as one may expect. Personally I find happiness to be circumstantial. It depends on your surroundings and the situation you are in. I can be in the greatest mood ever, be at work for 5 minutes and see my mood flip from happy to depressed. Other days work can be really good, it depends on the other staff you work with, the mood of the customers, what shift it is and how much sleep or food you’ve had.

    Illy touches on the pursuit of happiness and everyones want of happiness in his song It Can Wait. He says “Happiness is fine but its momentary/ a momentary lapse of reality/ reality is fine, but for the moment it can wait/ I’m addicted to the chase of my happiness.” As suggested happiness isn’t part of reality or an emotion that can be experienced when life gets real, like at work, there is no place for happiness there – it is circumstantial.

    Happiness can also be forced upon us by societies expectations of us in given situations. If we’re at a wedding, church, at a christening, a party or a general place of celebration you are expected to be happy or portray happiness even if its not the way you are feeling.

    I also agree that personal awareness and reflection of emotions and holding oneself accountable for their emotions in turn considering the people around them and their emotions will allow for the building of truly happy societies. I personally have made myself aware of an emotion and held myself accountable for my actions when I was feeling this emotion and it led to me always thinking ‘is this a situation I really need to be upset about?’, ‘is it something I should get worked up over or should I just leave it?’. Thinking this way eventually led me to either not feel that emotion in a situation I would have normally felt it in or not act on it as quickly as I otherwise normally would have.

  2. I believe happiness can be split into ‘in the moment’ or circumstantial, and overall level of happiness, or similar to an average. In the moment our emotions can be more fleeting, ranging from happy to sad in relation to an event or something happening to bring out a range of emotions. Emotions like contentment usually prescribe an overall feeling, whereas in the moment we may be happy, sad, angry, frustrated etc.

    In this way happiness seems individualised, even though happiness can be measured on a scale from individual to national level. These broader measurements of happiness look like at a more lifetime or average happiness level. with studies like the ‘World Happiness Report’ measuring happiness in terms of freedom of choice, social support, GDP and positive and negative affect. Individual scale happiness measurement looks more at social circumstance and personal feelings, possibly even the biological inclination of feeling happy, for example those who have depression are less inclined to be happy.

    Although biological sources of happiness cannot be changed, social factors can. In saying this it is important to be reflexive about our own happiness, aligning our interests, or what makes us happy, with circumstances we know make us happy. It is important we make sure what we are doing brings happiness.

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  3. I think happiness is something that we expect more than we try to achieve. The USA has the pursuit of happiness as one of their amendments, it is expected! Society shows us, consistently, how happiness should look and feel. We follow instagram pics, facebook posts and fashion blogs to find things and products to make is happy but what appears to be missing is how we make others happy. While we subscribe to all of these groups there no real sense of belonging. In the past people were a part of a wider comminity that helped achieve a sense of happiness and perhaps helped with mental illness. People played sports and went to church and belonged to other clubs which became a support network. Holmes speaks of reflexivity an essential to understanding what makes us and others happy. We need to consider what measures we need to take for our own happiness journey. For me, simplicity is key for me in achieving happiness. Being grateful, practicing forgiveness and being kind. When we can look at ourselves and understand what makes us happy we can understand other peoples happiness needs.

  4. Happiness is not a lucid emotion or one that people tend to feel excessively within society. The idea of happiness as a moment of “…feeling good- enjoying life and wanting that feeling to be maintained” is an emotion many people desire to achieve (Bartram 2012, p.645). However, happiness is a difficult emotion to maintain, even through promoting subjective mindfulness and positive psychology. Happiness is an emotion that differs circumstantially, socially and culturally. Therefore making the possibility of measuring happiness to determine social progress of nations through well-being and progress surveys, or scales of life satisfaction very difficult, as everyone’s reflexivity of emotions towards happiness differs greatly. Methods such as these are focused towards largely quantitative data, which restricts participant’s responses, and substitutes complex emotions with a numerical value. Alternate studies that analyse well-being across nations have shown that happiness does differ due to socially structured conditions. Thus, changes towards happiness may be “…strongly linked to institutional conditions that can be changed by policy interventions” (Veenhoven 2005, p.1). Highlighting how an increase in happiness on a macro level, may be linked to developing institutional, political, and community based factors. In addition to creating a strong social capital of familial and community based support networks (Helliwell & Putnam 2004, p.1435). To build a truly happy society, institutions need to develop strategies to promote well-being and life satisfaction, as well as individuals building a strong social capital for themselves and becoming more reflexive within their daily lives.

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  5. Happiness or rather, unhappiness, is definitely linked to social structural conditions. Young children and babies are arguably the happiest in the world- is this because they are not yet aware of or engaged in social structures? If we removed the common negative feelings of stress, tiredness, frustration, anxiety, anger, guilt etc that are caused by social structures such as work, family life, and relationships, we would probably be left feeling pretty happy. This is evident for example, when we are on holidays and we feel happy because we don’t have the worries or stresses of work and home. Holmes’ (2010) emotional reflexivity highlights how social circumstances do affect our happiness as reflecting on and changing theses circumstances can make us happier. I believe we need to take this reflexivity to the next level and create a reflexive society that is consistently reflecting on how its institutions and structures affect happiness and adjusting them to ensure happiness and wellbeing as a whole.

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  6. I think the concept of “happiness” varies for each individual. If you ask 20 people what 3 things in their life make them happy, or what 3 things would they change in their life in order to be happy, you would get a whole range of different responses, even then, say if a particular person wanted more financial stability in order to be happy, if they then received that, would they remain happy?
    peoples circumstances in life are forever changing effecting peoples happiness..

    I do although think, they way in which people interact can largely effect ones happiness, if people were a little more considerate when interacting or thought about life from someone elses perspective it may create happier environments for each other, although it is difficult to think or continuously be mindful of these things due to each individuals life circumstances.
    it was mentioned in the lecture that those who are of middle age are those who are most unhappy, due to that being the most stressful time in life as you’re raising a family, have a mortgage and a career to juggle all at once showing that social circumstances do affect our personal happiness

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  7. I’m going to suggest something radical here … I suggest that if we could (somehow) encourage people to temporarily put down their devices, turn off wifi and mobile data, and attempt to reconnect face to face maybe our happiness levels would increase. Yes, I am suggesting that we spend too much time on social media (my age is showing, I know)! I argue that, by addressing social and structural issues in society, rather than always relying on individualistic methods, such as ‘how too’ lists, an increase in collective societal happiness would undoubtedly follow. And putting down our phones, for only a small amount of time, will start the ball rolling. It might even catch on!

    Helliwell and Putman would support this approach as it is likely enhance our social capital, and thus overall happiness. To realise this in our modern society, I offer the suggestion that the creation of optional ‘wifi and device free zones’, where people can come together and connect face to face, would be beneficial to society as a whole. Maybe, just maybe, this would begin to address our low levels of social happiness. Or is this suggestion too reminiscent of my teenage years I spent during the 90s? Am I letting the emotion of nostalgia dominate this train of thought? However, I do believe that whatever is done must derive from the ground up and happen organically. We simply can’t sit back and wait for government to make us happy. Do you agree?

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  8. I believe everyone is after the pursuit of happiness and have their own ideas of it as well as the general umbrella term of this pursuit. Governmental and universal attempts to measure happiness is not the be and end all for this concept, as their tools for these measurements are generalised and not personal at all, in order to produce data at a macro level rather than at a micro level. There are many variables that go into determining if groups/countries are ‘happy’, which is vital for how a ‘Third World’ country will continue to develop, but if the problems do not become clear then the individual cannot gain access to what makes them happy. Further with the scientific ways to make someone happy, these will not fix problems at a manageable and maintainable level.

    It does make sense that unhappiness does arise out of complex emotions such as anxiety, depression, stress and anger as it would by a byproduct of these. Some people’s happiness could depend on a lot of peace, contentment and love, and it would make sense that a high amount of these would relate to a high amount of happiness. But again, there are too many determinants or variables in life that can simply make us unhappy when we could have everything we want.

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  9. Happiness for me seems an individualized emotion, one where everyone has their own idea about what it feels like to be happy. Despite this I think happiness is definitely influenced by social constructs. Pressures from everyday living like financial worries and relationship issues can affect the degree of happiness we feel. In Australia we are time poor, as most families need both parents working to be able to afford decent housing, and as a result of this we rarely have time to “stop and smell the roses.” I don’t think, we, as a society are as happy as we could be. I do not think a “steps of happiness” list can dramatically change the way we feel unless societal changes are made. I think we need to experience other emotions like sadness – the opposite to happiness, so we can truly know when we feel happy and what it actually feels like for the individual. Holmes discusses reflexivity as an essential to understanding happiness and I think reflecting on our emotions can help us understand them better, therefore happiness for ourselves and society in general is possible but societal pressures affect our chances of being truly happy.
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  10. If the plethora of self-help, mediation and happiness promptly activities surround attempting to boost our joy, why is it so unattainable and why are we so poor at it? Lyubomirsky discusses psychological evidence that reflects a difference between what we think might make us happy compared to what will make us happy. A common area discussed is areas such as promotions, clean bills of health, victories by our favorite sporting teams. The 40% solution is introduced where by happiness can be represented in a pie chart – 10% circumstances, 50% set point, 40% intentional activity. This theory suggests that the set point refers to our biological mother/father – a baseline for happiness to which we are bound to return, even after major setbacks or triumphs.

    Perhaps the most counter intuitive finding is that, as the chart shows only 10% of the variance in our happiness levels is explained by differences in life circumstances or situations e.g. rich vs. poor, healthy vs. unhealthy.

    This study is demonstrated that the richest Americans earning more than $10 million annually report levels only slightly higher than the blue collar workers that they employ. The potential to scrutinize carefully what precise behaviors and thoughts very happy people naturally and habitually engaging our untapped potential for increasing our own happiness.


    Lyubomirsky, Sonja 2007, The How of Happiness

  11. The lecture for this topic tackles happiness, mindfulness, and society. A person’s happiness is influenced by a number of factors. Everything from family ties and friendships to workplace or university environments can influence a person’s wellbeing and the amount of satisfaction they experience (Helliwell & Putnam 2013, p. 1444). It is important to recognise that living in such a complicated and unpredictable world is more than likely to result in all human beings feeling unhappy from time to time (Holmes 2010, p. 149). Alternatively, it is crucial that we work towards developing an understanding in regards to what makes us happy and then go from there.

    Reference List

    Holmes, M 2010, ‘The Emotionalization of Reflexivity’, Sociology, vol. 44, no. 1, pp. 139-154.

    Helliwell, J & Putnam, D 2004, ‘The social context of well-being’, The Royal Society, vol. 359, no. 1449, pp. 1435-1446.

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  12. The concept and feeling of happiness is an individualised emotion as what may be the centre of happiness for one person could promote and/or endorse an emotion other than happiness to another individual. Additionally, happiness seems to be socially constructed, and I feel that social media also plays a huge role within individual happiness. Additionally, by reflecting on our emotions as noted by Holmes (2010), we gain the ability to alter our social surroundings in order to make us feel happier. Furthermore, I feel with the decrease of social media and increase of reflexivity, our happiness can be significantly altered and ultimately increased.

  13. The social construction of happiness has various definitions and can have different meanings to each individual depending based on their individualised social constructions. Therefore, happiness is individualised and not a universal based measurement as per Gross National Happiness. The interrelationship between structure and agency provides the opportunity to externalised and internalised different levels of happiness and is dependent on the environment surrounding them. Thus, happiness is shaped by direct and indirect factors that enable the ability to build social capital and networks in their lives (Helliwell and Putnam, 2004, p.1436). It is becoming apparent that society is realising their ability to pull social capital or lack thereof. This measurement is an individual and internalised audit of happiness, thus reflection highlights the satisfaction of one’s life.

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  14. Studying both psychology and sociology has really challenged my perceptions on how it is we as a society discuss emotions. Whilst this weeks topic had me really questioning the psychological discourse I’ve come to know, this particular blog post also has me questioning sociological pursuits. Whilst the reflexive approach within sociology may bring us to think more about how we think about emotions and how societies structures influence this, I also believe this kind of inherently fits within the modern discourse surrounding individualised emotions. Illouz discusses our new more dominant obsession with psychological states, and often times those disorders of anxiety and depression are often a challenge to happiness and well-being. In psychology the aim is to help an individual come to a place where their happiness is either salvaged or is rebuilt. Therefore sociology’s approach of reflexivity, another way in which we strategise coming to understand how happiness is created within societies or the aim of creating happier societies in general, I believe still feed into the modern discourse that is kind of obsessed with our emotional states and how WE can make them better.
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  15. Everybody craves for happiness. Bartram states that happiness is something that gives you pleasure. Bartram is convinced that Haybron’s definition of happiness, “a positive emotional state” is the most enthralling. However I feel that a person can only feel complete happiness when they have no negative thoughts in their mind and both their mind and body are at ease.
    Helliwell and Putman state that “all forms of social connectedness have strong positive effects on physical health, whereas strong beliefs do not.” This explains that in current society, cultural experiences and religious beliefs do not bring people as much happiness as simple activities like petting a puppy or hanging out with friends. Moreover, we cannot specifically define which person needs positive psychology and which person needs consultation with a psychiatrist. Positive psychology cannot be used on people who have suffered extreme trauma as we cannot understand the depth of their grief and hurt. However, if someone is having a bad day, social connections and other positive psychological methods can brighten their moods.
    Our other emotions also help shape us. In current society, rising anxiety, stress, anger and depression are the key facts for people suffering severe unhappiness. It is because many people are unable to come out and express themselves. People feel depressed and anxious for several reasons. The daily life where due to social reasons, people do not have enough money to support themselves and hence they are unhappy. Certain people have problems with expressing their gender a sit is not accepted in society today and hence they feel shunned and unhappy. People also feel unhappy and stressed with exams, work and their daily domestic lives, where they may have issues with their family and partners.
    Nevertheless, our happiness is composed of the peace and love that we receive from family and friends as well as the small comforts that we can gift our themselves like buying new clothes, buying a new vehicle or a house. We cannot categorise that everybody around the world feels happy for the same reason. There are several tribes in Africa and several communities in India, who have different cultural and religious practices. These people have immense happiness when they carry out their cultural and religious practices everyday, even though we may be astonished by their cultural practices and wonder how it makes them happy.

  16. Happiness is often held as an ideal with little regard towards how temporary and changeable it is. Furthermore, wrapped up in this is the reflection that happiness is often misunderstood due to how it is often way too over-appreciated and hard for people to actually achieve. It is idealised so that people always aim to achieve it but never actually do.

    Look at industries which are reliant on people wanting to be happy. Buying things and seeing others buy things just propels this falsehood of how consumption makes you happy. Social media amplifies how society is engrossed with happiness: not with being truly happy but with showing it to others.

    What seems to be lost in all this is the actual experience of being happy.
    Theorists and scholars like Holmes (2010, p. 149) talk about the complexity of life and about how unhappiness is part of our lives due to life’s unpredictability. Why can we not see that being unhappy is normal? And why is being happy so valued?

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