SOC327 2017 Tut12 – Wed 1730

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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15 Comments

  1. I feel that our happiness depends on what an individual is actually doing in the moment, opposed to rating our happiness between 0-10 to define our satisfaction with life as a whole. Mary Holmes uses ‘Reflexivity’ to suggest that individuals change their lives as a response to learning about another individual’s social and environmental circumstances. (Holmes 2010, p. 139) For example, an individual will do something which will make another person happy, which can result in putting their own happiness aside. In Bartrum’s 2012 survey he discovered that the main forms of happiness can be associated with good health, high income and a good social support system (i.e. family and friends.) (Patulny 2017)

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  2. I think default settings are dangerous. I believe Kathy Charmaz’s core/periphery exists within the emotions as well, and, through this, the marginalisation of ‘wrong’ feeling. This causes the structure to overpower the agent i.e. subordination via stigmatisation. Mary Holme’s use of emotional reflexivity addressed this in its bucking of tradition (p. 140), giving power back to the agent—the power to be happy. Without structure and agency going hand in hand, inequalities are perpetuated through lack of action and the system stays the same.

  3. Whilst new indicators of happiness, are useful in identifying which countries sustain the happiest populations within the context of certain factors, they may produce quite arbitrary results. For instance, the Happy Planet Index measures how well different countries ensure long, happy and sustainable lives for their citizens. Although Costa Rica ranks 1st in the HPI it is unlikely that in moving an unhappy person to that country will automatically improve their happiness. As such, happiness is something defined by each person. Fed through different social capital (Helliwell & Putnam, 2013), it is the role of individuals in engaging in emotional reflexivity (Holmes, 2010) to find out what makes them happy and use this in adapting their lifestyles and behaviours. #S327UOW17 #Tut12 #Wed1730

  4. As Holmes suggests, by emotionalising reflexivity, we can come to terms with understanding that “the self is constantly constructed and reconstructed in ongoing relations to others” (Holmes 2010, p. 147). By taking this into consideration, and reflecting on your last question, I do think that we need to most definitely become more reflexive about what makes us happy and what makes other happy. By doing this, I believe that we as society will learn and appreciate the true meaning behind and of happiness. It will become an emotion that will not be taken for granted and will in turn strengthen social cohesion and self identity.

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  5. Happiness has ALOT to do with other emotions, well not just emotions, but mental health issues. Someone suffering from anxiety or social anxiety may also suffer from depression and always feel unhappy. This is due to the ongoing barriers to living life just as everyone else. An individual may be able to feel happy for certain moments, that does not necessarily mean they are overall happy with themselves, their life, or their situation. And of course, depression is a chemical imbalance, which can affect anyone.

  6. In order to be happy we should accept being unhappy. It is not healthy or balanced to be continually chasing the emotion of happiness. Instead we should encourage people to accept, acknowledge and face all of their emotions. Then after accepting our competing emotions we can reflexively learn what truly makes us happy as an individual. I agree with Holmes, that emotions are continually changing and being reconstructed and we need to acknowledge this to find happiness.

  7. People are forever wishing to be this ideal of the ultimate happy person. But that in itself is unhealthy and setting up a person for failure. In order to be happy we need to understand when we are not happy. We can not have one without the other.

  8. Sociologists have found a way to measure happiness and compare globally. This seems almost pointless to compare globally, due to the different definitions and dialects translations of happiness. If compared countries to themselves over periods of time, this will allow more individualised development. (Bartram, 2012). By comparing, the results from previous years, this enables the identification of what subjective or objective well-being’s individuals are pursing for happiness. This will assist in identifying the aspects which place each nation in there ranking. Using this information, you will be able to truly pursue happiness for your nation.
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  9. I think happiness can mean something different to every single individual depending on their personal experiences and preferences. I don’t believe happiness can be defined for this very reason. I agree with Laura Ducie’s view that it “seems pointless to compare [happiness] globally, due due to the different definitions and dialects translations of happiness.” Sociologists are becoming obsessed with defining happiness, but are forgetting how this word and feeling cannot be defined by one specific emotion and experience, in the same ways that unhappiness doesn’t mean the same thing to each person. We should focus more on our individual happiness than society as a whole.

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  10. I do agree that we do need to be more reflective about what makes us individually truly happy, instead of following the mainstream trend of apparently pleasing lifestyles. Helliwell and Putnam (2004) tried to find a adequate measurement to be able to quantify happiness throughout many people, but I believe any scale will always be fairly unrepresentative. The individual indicator for happiness varies from one person to the other and can only be found by a reflection of the personal preferences. But what seems to have a dominating influence is the social surrounding a person, so while studying this area it is important to have a focus on it.

  11. Personally, i feel one must know unhappiness to know happiness. Bartram notices that happiness is associated with a lot of things you would consider social factors (2012). These social factors, however, are major causes of anxiety and depression when not achieved. This is where the argument becomes relevant on why it seems ridiculous that our happiness often depends on surrounding factors of an individual’s life rather than the individual themselves.

  12. When Mary Holmes discusses emotional reflexivity in ‘Emotional Reflexivity in Contemporary Friendships: Understanding It Using Elias and Facebook Etiquette’ she speaks about reflecting one’s contemporary friendships, particularly those kept through Facebook. She says “emotional reflexivity is employed with varying degrees of subtlety and ‘success’ as people navigate friendships and other relationships.” I think this is an important point that alludes to the relationship between happiness and friendship. You are influenced by those who surround you socially, thus it is important for ones own happiness to constantly reflect on the friendship you share with others, and how that affects you. This is why it is important not to ‘hoard’ your friends on facebook. Facebook helps maintain friendships with people who you do not share any intimate friendship or relationships with. If they do not contribute positively to your happiness, just get rid of them!

  13. I think to be truly happy, being reflexive has something to do with it. I also think positive psychology is a great and effective way to promote happiness in everyday life in anyone, by recognizing both the positive and the negative consequences of daily life and embracing the positive ones to feel content. This is for overall happiness and life satisfaction. As far as a day to day basis goes, there is no way to escape negative emotions but attitudes towards negative emotions and occurrences can assist in maintaining happiness.
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  14. Happiness is a significant point of focus throughout society. We are told that the ultimate goal worth achieving in life is ‘pure happiness’. However, I find that there are never any direct depictions of what this type of happiness entails. As we discussed in lecture, tackling the concept of happiness is a very complex process that entails looking at multiple viewpoints. In my opinion, I find that happiness is often associated with feelings and emotions felt in the ‘here and now’. If we aren’t feeling what society tells us is ‘happy’, we may be falling away from this goal. I found lecture content discussing happiness in American culture to be relatively interesting. After being on exchange in Australia for the past four months, I do see subtle differences between the standards of happiness and fulfillment between our cultures. I feel that America facilitates the attitude that we must always be busy with activities that truly encompass our interests and passions. Thus, I find that American culture has greatly affected my ability to perceive my happiness around the activities and social interactions I am engaging with. By considering information from previous lectures, I can see how this attitude is negative as it facilitates feelings of loneliness, etc.

  15. I feel like it is hard to measure happiness on such a large scale. So many societal factors need to be taken into consideration. Being reflexive is a good way to reflect on your life and consider areas that you can improve upon. Also it is important to consider when you are not happy and reflect on this. I agree with Holmes when she illustrates that emotions are integral to reasoning and assist in the reflexive process. It is important to look within yourself to understand perhaps why you are unhappy and how you can change aspects of your life that are making you unhappy.

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