SOC344 2018 Tut10 – Batemans Bay

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?

#S344UOW18 #Tut10 #Bbay

Posted in SOC327 - Emotions Bodies and Society, UOW.

2 Comments on SOC344 2018 Tut10 – Batemans Bay

Jacqui Wilson said : Guest Report 3 months ago

The Good life as a cultural narrative? So we know social patterns are important when considering our happiness and wellbeing. Institutional, cultural and demographic differences can be established to measure our happiness as a nation, but what about labels? In soceity and accross our earth human beings are assigned labels everyday just as our nations throughout history have been collectively labelled as having particular traits. Whether it be black, white, rich, poor, hardworking, hard drinking or simply fun loving, labelling or categorising is a tool used to resolve the complexity of environments which we perceive. These categories have no basis in distinguishing us biologically but they do determine the social, political and economic wellbeing of their members. So can a label make one group happier or more unhappy than another? Does our identity as a nation or our cultural narrative reflect our level of happiness? For example who is happier-our Jewish populations, our Muslim communities, us happy go lucky Aussies or our whingeing Poms? Do these collective stereotypes or labels determine our happiness as individuals? Can we shake off a label or stain we're not 'Happy' with or is this our destiny?#S344UOW18#Tut10#Bbay

Katrina Manning said : Guest Report 3 months ago

Our inability to be in the moment, but rather longingly think about a happier past, or wish for a brighter future seems an inherent part of human nature. Rarely do we simply live in the present and enjoy what we have right now. We are obsessed with documenting every moment and uploading it to social media (we view things through a lens rather than just experiencing it), with most of these moments typifying us as living our best life where we are always happy. But don’t we need to experience unhappiness and disappointment? When we come down with sickness, doesn’t it make us appreciate health more? It seems to be the same with happiness and life satisfaction. It is only when we experience moments of sadness or disappointment that we gain a greater understanding of what it means to be happy and joyful. When we realise that happiness is not a constant, but something that comes and goes throughout our lives, it allows for a greater appreciation of happiness when we do have it. #S344UOW18 #Tut10 #Bbay

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