SOC344 2018 Tut10 – Bega

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 #Bega

Posted in SOC327 - Emotions Bodies and Society, UOW.

3 Comments on SOC344 2018 Tut10 – Bega

Alex Young said : Guest Report 9 months ago

As Roger states happiness is certainly an important measure of social progress, however because it is such an individualised and subjective emotion, it is often considered difficult to accurately measure. This week’s reading by Helliwell and Putnam (2013) investigates how we can best measure both happiness and life satisfaction in society. They provide a number of factors that can have a significant impact on happiness, which generally refers to short term wellbeing, and life satisfaction which conversely, most often refers to longer term wellbeing. (Heliwell & Putnam 2013, p. 1345). Some of the factors they identify include physical health, education, socioeconomic status, age, marital status and employment status. Despite identifying these factors they are also somewhat critical of the correlation, or lack thereof, between them and social wellbeing (Heliwell & Putnam 2013, p. 1345). I strongly believe that these factors can have an influence in wellbeing but because they are often not the primary cause of someone experiencing unhappiness or lack of life satisfaction, it can be difficult to propose a single solution to the complex, individualised emotion of unhappiness.

Catherine Clarke said : Guest Report 10 months ago

Roger says “structure and agency go hand in hand in consideration of our happiness”, and so it follows that reflexivity is an important aspect to consider when discussing one’s ability to be happy. When we look at lifestyles of those living in cities, new capitalism, and our ever-changing jobs play a large part in the feeling of disconnect many are experiencing. Sennett argues that “Socially, the short-term regime produces a paradox: people work intensely, under great pressure, but their relations to others remain curiously superficial” (2000). We change jobs more often than ever before, neglecting to make relationships and personal connections at work, while at the same time working so much that we are feeling disconnected to our community, and too busy to be involved with those in the neighbourhood we live in. At a time when there are so many people struggling with loneliness, anxiety and depression, rather than simply medicating, we should be looking at how we are responding to our increasingly stressful and isolating lifestyles. The flexibility of the modern workplace creates a sense of incompleteness, but there is no sense that because something is missing in your life, you should turn outward to others, toward the “neighbourliness of strangers” (Sennett, 2000). Socially, an enormous amount of importance is placed on our level of ‘happiness’. The media, and lists such as “25 ‘science-backed steps to be happy” perpetuate the fallacy that happiness must be our end goal. If we are not feeling happy, we are made to feel like we are somehow failing at life. What if we shifted the focus a little? What if the same level of importance was placed on compassion? If the same effort placed on our pursuit of happiness was placed on how compassionate we are, and how involved in connecting with, and helping others in the community, I can’t help but think genuine happiness would follow, and we would be better off as a society.

Carina Severs said : Guest Report 10 months ago

Imagine if we could change the world just by changing ourselves? The power of positive thinking or ‘positive psychology’ is focusing on the good aspects of life and not emphasising the bad. “As a clinical endeavour, positive psychology aims to enhance well-being and happiness, rather than remediate deficits” (Carr, A 2013, p.41 ). Carr goes on to explain that if greater job satisfaction and contented family life are ambitions for happiness then factors such as exercise, good sleep, setting goals and some good old fashioned socialising with your family and mates are the basics for making a change. This is a refocusing of traditional psychology which concentrated on fixing or altering the negative. It is an example of ‘eudaimonic’ institution of enquiry on well-being and is defined by Carr (2013, p.55) as “achieving ones full potential”. This is opposed to the ‘hedonic’ approach which explains well-being in terms of “pleasure seeking and pain avoidance” (Carr, A 2013, p.55). Seligman (2014) talks about how we have spent a lot of time and energy concentrating on the pathologies which arise when our lives are “barren and meaningless”. Again, wasting our energy on the negative, instead of the optimistic elements, which make our lives worth living. Such things as “creativity, perseverance, hope, spirituality and responsibility” (Seligman, 2014) are traits which enable happiness and contentment, which we all possess, but don’t necessarily use to their full extent. The future seems bright on this front if we can ‘spread the word’ and make social change because it’s our social norms which gives happiness structure and agency.

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