SOC344 2018 Tut10 – Mon 12.30pm

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 #Mon1230

Posted in SOC327 - Emotions Bodies and Society, UOW.

12 Comments on SOC344 2018 Tut10 – Mon 12.30pm

Amy Calladine said : Guest Report 3 months ago

The uncertainty of our modern lives breeds insecurity and therefore unhappiness. We are sold the idea that continued happiness is the ultimate goal anyone can strive for. So unhappiness becomes a problem of the individual; something to be addressed by the individual as it arises solely from personal failings. But the detraditionalization of our modern lives described by Giddens as the move away from tradition as a guide to life (via Holmes, p. 141), means that we no longer have the ability to gauge our personal success and sense of fulfilment on the benchmarks of previous generations. It is no longer as simple as getting a job, getting married, buying your own house and having children. One must be flexible: ready to uproot at a moment’s notice in both a professional and social sphere as markets become 24 hour global enterprizes and job roles become less defined and more specialised. Marriage, homeownership and childrearing are put on the backburner in favour of career. This climate of instability and individuation fosters loneliness, and by extension, unhappiness. “Emotions are felt and done within relations to other people and things,” says Holmes, (2013 p.145). So why then do emotional issues fall on the individual to “solve”, when it is our society at large that is fracturing and isolating the individual to such a degree as to cause such widespread emotional distress? Individuals are now forced to rely on their feelings to guide them in their interactions, known as emotional reflexivity, in order to gauge one’s own emotions and the emotions of others (p. 149). It is necessary, then, for us to see happiness not as something to be strived for and maintained by the individual, but something to foster within communities that have shared goals, giving a sense of stability and belonging in communities that exist in an increasingly unstable modern framework. #S344UOW18 #Tut10 #Mon1230

Samantha Walker said : Guest Report 3 months ago

Happiness is more than just an emotion. It is a part of life in which we thrive and push to achieve such feeling as the world says that without happiness there is no meaning to life. The idea of happiness is however not something that everybody experiences in the same way, as happiness is an emotion that is individualised and perceived differently depending on the person and their experiences. A question that remains is whether happiness is really all we need, and what do we do in order to rid ourselves of other emotions to gain more of this pleasurable emotion. The present media proclaims that all we need in life is happiness, and that it can be found through a number of avenues, such as money, pleasure and sex. However, the media does not tell us how balance our happiness and our other emotions, which leads to individuals trying to kill and dispose of their other emotions, which ultimately does not work as emotions and rationality balance each other out. We cannot be happy without the balance of emotions, as we need to learn to strive and push for the best result, and without the element of failure and sadness we would not learn how to push past the lows in life and keep working towards a different result. #S344UOW18 #Tut10 #Mon1230

Chloe Aubin said : Guest Report 3 months ago

Happiness, while an emotion that we all strive for, is one with many definitions. Each person has a different definition for what happiness is. This makes it difficult to provide a universal happiness for society as a whole. However, here are many factors that contribute to whether an individual is happy or not. For example, according to the World Happiness Report (Helliwell et al. 2015) Denmark is the happiest country. This is due to things such as their high financial support system, whereby women get an extended amount of paid maternity leave, as do men, free education, and other support as such. While Denmark’s tax rate is the highest in the world, they still have the highest financial support system, which means they do not have the stress of education loans, unpaid maternity and paternity leave. So, while the Danes don’t have as much money as they could, due to the high tax rate, they are still happy. Subjective wellbeing is increasingly recognised as a key indicator of quality of life, according to Patulny & Fisher (2012). Happiness is an emotional quality of subjective wellbeing, which complements and even provides an alternative to measures social progress. It is these components of our everyday lives that promote social progress that we need in order to improve the wellbeing of our society.

Genevieve Sutton said : Guest Report 3 months ago

Happiness is linked highly to the individual self. We are constantly told that in order to be happy we don’t need to be rich. We are told that our wealth doesn’t bring us happiness but, through my own life and the experiences of those close to me, not having money brings us more stress and struggle leading to unhappiness. The idea that we can learn to be happy has become commodified, with the production of self help books, magazines, tv series, even events such as conferences where we are taught how to be happy. I don’t agree happiness relays on the individual, we can’t be totally fulfilled and happy alone. Instead the idea that society impacts our happiness seems more accurate, by building a more accepting, open and stable society we will simultaneously build an overall happier society. The concept of social reflexivity is present by Holmes (2010) as the way people attempt to change and alter their lives based around their social and natural environment. This reflects the concept that society and our environment have an impact on our happiness and therefore it is not entirely reliant on the individual. #S344UOW18 #MON1230 #tut10

Mikaela Cleary said : Guest Report 3 months ago

As studies have highlighted, happiness is linked to social structure and society, due to it differing substantially across rich, poor and unequal societies. It is interesting that despite these research findings, happiness is still seen as an individualized emotion and that treatments for happiness are also still very individualized. Why do so many of us still view happiness as individualized if there are research findings telling us otherwise? I believe happiness is viewed as a personal responsibility. If we are unhappy we are expected to fix the problem. We always have an aim to become happy because happiness is viewed as the ideal, normal emotion. This I find somewhat ironic considering very few people feel like they are truly happy. There are a number of external and environmental forces that influence and dictate our happiness levels, including aspects of our society. These societal aspects may include changes in economic and work conditions, family, gender, ethnicity, and age structures and social connection. All of these ideas may lead to feelings of unhappiness. Happiness should be understood as having a link to society and social structure, instead of being viewed as individualized. #S344UOW18 #tut10 #mon1230

Mikaela Cleary said : Guest Report 3 months ago

As studies have highlighted, happiness is linked to social structure and society, due to it differing substantially across rich, poor and unequal societies. It is interesting that despite these research findings, happiness is still seen as an individualized emotion and that treatments for happiness are also still very individualized. Why do so many of us still view happiness as individualized if there are research findings telling us otherwise? I believe happiness is viewed as a personal responsibility. If we are unhappy we are expected to fix the problem. We always have an aim to become happy because happiness is viewed as the ideal, normal emotion. This I find somewhat ironic considering very few people feel like they are truly happy. There are a number of external and environmental forces that influence and dictate our happiness levels, including aspects of our society. These societal aspects may include changes in economic and work conditions, family, gender, ethnicity, and age structures and social connection. All of these ideas may lead to feelings of unhappiness. Happiness should be understood as having a link to society and social structure, instead of being viewed as individualized. #S344UOW18 #tut10 #mon1230

Melissa Mackay said : Guest Report 3 months ago

As someone who has grown up being taught that “no one can make you happy but yourself”, the individualisation of happiness as an emotion is no surprise to me. The role of social factors such as employment and income, personal relationships, health and wellbeing and education have a direct influence on one’s own perception of happiness and overall satisfaction with life, and as Helliwell and Putnam (2004) note, “social capital” like this “is found to support both physical health and subjective well-being” (p.1435). A simple web search on ‘how to be happy’ provides one with so many contradictory quick-fix solutions, solutions which are presented as definitive answers to the age old question “am I really happy?” In book stores there are entire shelves dedicated to self-help and ways to promote mindfulness. This makes me wonder whether the individuals looking to these sources of information for answers on how to feel emotions like happiness are being taken advantage of — are they really benefitting from the advice entrusted to them in these books? If working towards happiness is as simple as changing your diet to include more fruits and vegetables or creating an exercise regime, why aren’t more people doing this? Ultimately, I agree with Holmes (2010) in that “emotions have become crucial to the reproduction of selves” (p.149), and feel that reflexivity and truly analysing one’s feelings — where they come from and why — plays a crucial role in enabling individuals to better understand their emotions and allows for a more attainable achievement of a personal happiness goal. #S344UOW18 #Tut10 #Mon1230

Eunkyu Kim said : Guest Report 3 months ago

Building a happy society, I think, should start from emphasising and changing the society to less divided society. Though happiness is more often emphasised in the individual stage, people constantly or often reflect their happiness through the social status and circumstance that are impacting the individuals. As Holmes (2013) argues that emotions are reflexive process, it is always necessary to consider the society that the individuals face in order to increase one’s happiness. Holmes (2013) state that changing social conditions may bring feelings of excitement and possibility, not just fear or risk. As an international student from the country where happiness is ranked 56th place (in UN Commission on Sustainable Development World Happiness Report 2017) living and studying in a country that is ranked 9th place, I see and feel that the Australian society is more stable and have more opportunity that can be linked to high rate of individual’s happiness. Thus, stabilised social conditions and circumstances will allow people to feel happy than the society that have polarization, political imbalance and threat of war. #S344UOW18 #Tut10 #Mon1230

Georgia Stack said : Guest Report 3 months ago

The strive for happiness plays such a large part in our day-to-day lives that it has become a consumable product (Illouz, 2008). Whilst the internet may suggest that following anywhere from 5 to 20 steps can point you in the direction of a happy, social media perfect life, there are a multitude of factors that contribute to a person’s short term happiness and subjective well-being. It has been found that money and happiness exists in a curvilinear relationship, with those who do not have their basic needs met being significantly less happy than those who have their needs met. However, those with an excess of money are no happier than those who have their needs met, this is known as the Easterlin Paradox. A complimentary theory to this is the Hedonic treadmill, which suggests that after an increase in money we experience short bursts of happiness, but we soon adapt to this and begin to expect more out of life, and find mundane pleasures such as reading a book, less pleasurable (Brickman, Coates, & Janoff-Bulman, 1978). This could in turn lead to unhappiness when we don’t meet these new expectations. As Roger stated, structure and agency go hand in hand. As external factors do have the ability to influence one’s happiness, perhaps happiness could be managed through a person’s locus of control. If a person has an internal locus of control, they are able to take responsibility for and be reflexive of their lives to create their own happiness. However, if a person has an external locus of control, they will credit all happiness and disappointment to external circumstances which they believe they have no control over. #S344UOW18 #tut10 #Mon1230

Serena Barsby said : Guest Report 3 months ago

As Roger has pointed out the modern world has become increasingly focused on happiness in which we now see nations actively invested in improving the happiness measures of their citizens. As someone who has grown up within a world that has always been fascinated by happiness and how to achieve it I have heard the good ol’ saying “money doesn’t buy happiness” time and time again. Yet the older I have gotten this saying has begun to seem more so the dogma of the economically comfortable than the everyday person (or the average full-time university student I would add). The Helliwell and Putnam gave some insight into this dilemma by stating research which found that money does increase subjective well-being in lower economic levels BUT for individuals who are in the wealthier economic brackets (above the median) money has “…a quite modest effect.” (2013, p. 1436.). I think this really highlights the true means that money can provide. For individuals who may struggle to simply provide for themselves (and perhaps their family as well) you would surely find that they would have less free time to enjoy with the people that they love and would be more anxious and stressed about their work/ income relation. Yet for those lucky few who find themselves more well off, their basic necessities for a comfortable life would easily be covered. Due to this, these wealthier individuals would not need to stress about feeding or housing themselves. It appears that once the basic needs for individual have been covered, money loses its ability to significantly affect subjective well-being. It is at this point where other factors such as personality, physical well-being, genetic make-up, social connections etc come into play and will more meaningfully effect happiness. However the dilemma of money increasing happiness gets even more interesting when the article highlights that “it is relative income, not absolute income, that matters most” (p. 1436). This proposes that income itself does not matter, it is how your income compares to others that will affect happiness. This relates to Mary Holmes article on reflexivity and how people tend to alter their life (and emotions) in response to knowledge about their personal circumstances. As Bridgitte posted in her blog before me “Understanding how we affect society as well as how society affects us gives understanding of what it means to be genuinely happy within society…”. Both Holmes and Bridgitte encapsulate this idea that reflexivity of an individual’s emotions is INCREDIBLY important regarding their happiness (in the case of income reflexivity is actually more important than the stand-alone income itself). In this sense we can understand that in order to reform societies that can truly be happy, EQUALITY is of utmost significance. When there are strong inequalities between individual’s income’s then they will reflexively feel this disparity and embody the shame, embarrassment, anger and unhappiness that comes along with it. #S344UOW18 #Tut10 #Mon1230

Abby Tozer said : Guest Report 3 months ago

‘The face of happiness looks rather like the face of privilege’ (Ahmed, 2010, pg. 11). Statistics show that the higher your socio economic status is, the higher your happiness levels will be. Furthering this however, by introducing the Easterlin paradox, whereby, ‘higher income groups are happier than lower income groups, but rising income does not lead to rising happiness once its lifted you out of poverty’. This is where the concept of reflexivity must be applied to our lives. Holmes (2010) describes the process of social reflexivity as an individual and society as a whole ‘trying to understand and alter their lives in relation to their social and natural environments’. It is through this reflexivity human beings are able to transform their lives and subsequently their emotions, in search of happiness. We must understand what elements of the late modern life are increasingly thwarting happiness and seek to combat them as a society, rather than entirely individually. I am not saying that the ultimate goal is pure, complete happiness, much like Roger, I am suggesting that we need to analyse the social factors inhibiting this emotion for many, and ultimately create more sociable, less standardized environments. The paradoxical nature of late modern society’s increased interest in what creates happiness and the apparent rise in loneliness and depression, is indicative of a transforming society, whereby the modern work/life balance has placed a stranglehold on the happiness we so often seek. So if we were to measure quality of life through a measure of happiness, rather than GDP, would we begin to place importance on our more sociable selves, rather than economic levels? Happiness is not individualised, happiness is derived from how we interact with society and how society interacts with us. Reaching pure happiness is for me, unattainable, because to be a sociable human being we must experience a multitude of emotions to be content with the life we live. #S344UOW18 #Tut10 #Mon1230

Bridgitte Slinger said : Guest Report 3 months ago

The upsurge in societies pursuits for happiness has increased interests in measuring and planning for the happiness of nations. Research uncovered that happiness is A significant measure of social progress. Despite the link to social structural conditions, Happiness is still painted as an individualised (and thus commercialised) phenomenon (Illouz, 2008). ‘therapy culture’ claims that happiness can be attained through consumption and ‘therapeutic practice’ and institutions are put forward as the means to ‘resolve’ unhappiness, rather than community (Illouz, 2008). To more effectively plan for the happiness of nations we need to start understand our societies and improve social structure. Improving the social and community structure of these communities would be a more effective approach then individualised solution. I agree that we have the ability to change society through emotional reflexivity, reflection and awareness. Being able to understand the causes of emotional distress and wellbeing and knowing how to alter these social and natural environments to others. emotional intelligence is becoming a common quality in today’s society this is enables people to identify, understand and monitor their own emotions and others emotions. Understanding how we affect society as well as how society affects us gives understanding of what it means to be genuinely happy within society instead of managing and surface acting happiness. #S344UOW18 #Tut10 #Mon1230 5688565

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