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The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  711 ratings  ·  118 reviews
In winter 2014, a Tibetan monk lectured the world leaders gathered at Davos on the importance of Happiness. The recent DSM-5, the manual of all diagnosable mental illnesses, for the first time included shyness and grief as treatable diseases. Happiness has become the biggest idea of our age, a new religion dedicated to well-being.

In this brilliant dissection of our
Paperback, 277 pages
Published June 14th 2016 by Verso (first published May 1st 2015)
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Average rating 3.65  · 
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 ·  711 ratings  ·  118 reviews

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A friend of mine at work recommended I read some Davies – actually, he suggested The Limits of Neoliberalism, but then I spotted this one and became intrigued. Aristotle says that happiness is our main aim in life – well, he sort of said that. What gets translated as ‘happiness’ in English is his Eudaimonia – having a good spirit. Not quite the same thing as what many people mean when they say they are happy. What this book does particularly well is to show that late stage capitalism has been ac ...more
Mar 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley

"This is what now preoccupies our global elites. Happiness, in its various guises, is no longer some pleasant add-on to the more important business of making money, or some new age concern for those with enough time to sit around baking their own bread. As a measurable, visible, improvable entity, it has now penetrated the citadel of global economic management. If the World Economic Forum is any guide, and it has always tended to be in the past, the future of successful capitalism depends on ou
Emma Sea
Aug 23, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
2.5 stars. I didn't enjoy it more because I would have liked something deeper and more philosophical. Instead there was a lot of primer material on the origin of neoliberalism, the medicalization and treatment of depression, Taylorism and business productivity, and workplace 'management' that I didn't need. So my rating doesn't reflect any shortcoming of the book, as such, just that I am not the target reader.

Anyone reading this and wanting more, I would recommend The Queer Art of Failure and You May!
Tara Brabazon
Mar 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If I could give this book ten stars (out of five) then I would. Tremendous. Courageous. Gutsy. Scholarly. Funny. Deadly serious. This book takes a chain saw to the 'happiness industry' that proposes wellbeing and healthfulness. The corporate challenges, the anti-depressants, neuroscience, brain training. If we can all just do a bit more yoga, then the challenges of our toxic workplace will dissolve.

Davies aligns the explosion in these 'movements' with the Global Financial Crisis and
Jonna Higgins-Freese
This was one of those great books that articulates something I've felt or suspected but not been able to express: that defining happiness in psychological rather than political terms benefits the powerful.

"Since the 1960s, Western economies have been afflicted by an acute problem in which they depend more and more on our psychological and emotional engagement . . . forms of private disengagement, often manifest as depression and psychosomatic illnesses, do not only register in the su
Sarthak Pranit
Stop reading this now if you love self help books almost unreasonably. I used to.
Few books tell a new story. Self-help books even less. If you are an avid reader, you would have started seeing a pattern in the format of story telling for self-help books. It's as follows -
Background -> Objective -> Instances -> Examples for instances -> More reaffirmations -> Conclusion -> Next Steps.
Any self help book you pick up, you will start noticing this pattern. From Seth Godin to Rya
Benjamin Eskola
I don’t think I entirely knew what to expect when I began reading this book: some sort of critique of the way mindfulness and similar concepts seem to be pushed more and more often as a solution to every sort of problem? It is that, too, but it goes much deeper, exploring the interactions between economics, psychology, and management.

It begins by discussing Jeremy Bentham, and his desire for government on the basis of “the greatest happiness for the greatest number” (that is, utilita
Uwe Hook
Jun 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
his is a remarkable tour through the painful evolution of behavioral economics, management consulting, advertising and psychiatry. It fills us with the realization that happiness has always been a factor (not necessarily respected, appreciated or understood) in numerous fields. Now suddenly, it is front and center as giant corporations focus on it, the better to get more out of employees and customers. Happiness has made it to the front burner of multinationals. Look out.

Rather than
Jun 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Review of The Happiness Industry by William Davies

On first picking up this book, it might be easy to see it as another part of the trend in self help books published to make us aware of ways to improve our “happiness” with the lives we lead. So far so predictable BUT that is not what this book is at all. This is a truly profound and well-researched book, which speaks out about the baggage around the “positive psychology” and happiness movement in current western politics. It ranges f
Filip Kis
Jun 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was a total surprise. I picked it up with from a second-hand shop with no expectations (just a quick check on goodreads that it's not a total crap) and by the time I finished it I was looking at many things quite differently.

Unfortunately it's been couple of months since I finished it so many things I wanted to outline I've forgotten about. Still, the book gives a overview of how the interest in "what is happiness and how to measure it" has developed from early days of modern utilitar
Eve Dangerfield
Dec 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another day, another book with amazing insights into western culture and the innate behaviors we exhibit that aren't so much 'innate' as 'shoved down our throats as soon as our precious little eyes and ears can process images and language.'
What else is new?
This book, which hell yeah I read because Russell Brand had it on The Trews (say what you will about the bloke, he has great taste in reading material) took me back to the eighteenth century when people were just starting to wonder; could w
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book wasn’t what I expected. Normally, for a nonfiction, that isn’t a good sign because people are looking for certain information, or in the very least, have the vague but vested interest in the topic and thus anticipate certain ways the book would turn out. The title suggests more of an analytic approach to today’s model of well-being investment while the majority of the book focuses on the history of how the industrial and political economy has come to invest in the notion of happiness. The last ...more
Feb 10, 2017 added it
Recommends it for: tachyscopists, hedonometricians, nudge units and mindful ayahuasca HR warrior-monks
Reading this book was depressing as hell, but gave me a lot of pleasure.

I assign some of these pleasurable sentiments to the book's depth of research, and others to Davies' tremendous dry wit, a constant but never overbearing companion to this at times dense exploration of the history of quantified pleasure and its champions. At other points I derived satisfaction from this book's coruscating, urgent anger at the ways in which the concept of the quantified self has been so readily gr
Michelle Keill
Sep 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-books
In the way of all good books, it changed the way I think and feel about a few things. I definitely won't be buying a Fitbit now ...
Sep 17, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: capitalism
This book has an interesting premise, but it gets lost amidst the rather dry prose and tedious style. It could have gone much deeper and instead barely scratches the surface.
Jan 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An elucidating look at the connection between modern, neoliberal thought and the ‘happiness industry’ made up by mindfulness apps, workplace happiness questionnaires, and all those medications of course. Smart, well researched and leaving you questioning why we need to quantify happiness and feeling the need to embrace the good that unhappiness can bring society.
Matvey xd
good for what it is
Jacob Sanders
Oct 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Happiness Industry by William Davies is an ATV of a book – riding smooth over the diverse terrains of social policy, finance, anthropology, marketing, management, psychology and psychiatry – all working towards uncovering the motivations and justifications of the distinctly American obsession with pursuing “happiness.”

“Be Happy”
“Just Do It”
“Enjoy More”

The pop culture of the US embraces happiness with wide open arms. We are told that enjoyment is a greater
Jan 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've been listening to this book on my car rides home from work and it is absolutely fascinating. I'm gonna say right now if you don't appreciate technical or research based writing do not read this book, the author goes quite in depth into studies, papers and philosophy. It is not a casual reading book but wonderful and informative nonetheless.
Leah Lucci
What if, instead of working on our own selfish happiness, we should be focusing our unhappiness outward — at the way society is unfolding? Most, specifically, the uneven distribution of wealth and the lack of a voice in the world’s proceedings?

This is the basic premise of this book, which looks at the history of, and current emphasis on, happiness research.

The first 30% of the book is dry, but if you plug through the historical figures, you’ll find a lot of gems. There are a lot of facts to su
Roger K.
While this is a flawed book, it is worth a read for anyone interested in the Quantified Self or sociology for two main reasons. One is that the historical perspective on the positive psychology movement is well-researched and enlightening. The quest to quantify happiness and well-being is not new, and the parallels with past eras are striking.

The other is the point that in many circles, calls for resiliency/coping/positive attitudes are being pushed in lieu of actually making people'
Sep 15, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an important topic, but I am not sure this volume adds that much. It's basically a long essay about Jeremy Bentham; I would have preferred having the book start in 1960 instead of 1760. If the idea is to get into the philosophy of all this, then one would should go much further back to the world's wisdom traditions. The dilemma of deciding between lucidity and social acceptance/happiness is very old. Why the fixation on Bentham?

Other books deal better with debunking positive psychology, or with Big P
Sep 14, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
This was recommended to me by a coworker, and I do see why. It's well researched and has some very interesting information. However, the author clearly has some serious biases about issues raised in the book...and I'm not talking about the actual happiness stuff, which he's SUPPOSED to have an opinion on. His choice of language in discussing things such as homosexuality, war, and other issues betrayed a bias that was not appropriate to the discussion and, quite frankly, pulled me right out of th ...more
Amanda S.
****An Advance reader's Copy of The Happiness Industry by William Davies was generously provided to me via NetGalley in exchange of honest review.

I gave this book 3 stars, not because it's bad but because it's WAAAY out of my league. I requested it, thinking that, this book is about self-help or something like that. Haha, definitely my fault. But I do (trying to, TBH) finished it and up until the end, I'm not feeling anything.

But overall I enjoyed it, though I skim the pages quite many times.
Apr 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: summer-2016
Can't recommend enough. I found it particularly interesting that the author would often not state his most radical ideas up front (or at all) but provide examples/argument to lead the reader there.
Oct 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
TL;DR: Davies’ book is one long academic essay with a lot to offer an intelligent reader.

Lately I’ve been on a happiness kick.

I’ve begun to explore the concept of happiness with the intention of starting a podcast or a vlog about it. I have taken for granted all my life that I understood it. Now that I’m approaching early middle age, I’m doing what so many have done before me (and will continue to do after me): I’m thinking about what it means to be happy and to live a go
Blake Walsh
Dec 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author of The Happiness Industry, William Davies, is a political economist and sociologist before he is an author, however his writing has gotten large amounts of attention from the public. On his blog,, Davies states his main interests reside within, “neoliberalism, the science of happiness, and the present crisis of expertise.” Davies has written for many news outlets such as the Guardian, the Atlantic, New York Times, among others. However his book, The Happiness Industry, is more of a wa ...more
Thomas Cummins
May 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an important read, but it's not always an enjoyable one, for a number of reasons... A little over a year after finishing The Happiness Industry it is still on my mind often. And I think the reason I can't stop thinking about it is this: it scared the shit out of me. It also confused and frustrated me. I know people who would agree with those early Utilitarians described in the first few chapters. These are friends who list happiness as their ultimate goal and agree that they should be me ...more
Jul 26, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
When I saw the title and read the description of this book, I thought it would be right up my alley and a great way to learn more about this topic. However, there is a huge discrepancy between what the cover promises versus the actual contents of the book. I did not like the author's style of writing. Something was off, as if it was written by two different people; he would sometimes use contemporary internet speech, but sometimes revert to highly academic writing using words that sound learned ...more
Jul 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Inspiring and informative, if a bit overlong with historical explanation. Davies makes a compelling case against "mindfulness" and other modern attempts at increasing people's happiness. He argues that if people are unhappy, it is rarely because there is anything wrong with them. Instead, unhappiness is an inevitable side effect of an economic system that commodifies human beings and forces them into stressful, unfulfilling work. Rather than create an economic system that is equitable and respec ...more
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William Davies' writing has appeared in New Left Review, Prospect, the Financial Times, and Open Democracy. He's Reader in Political Economy at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author by this name in the Goodreads database.
“The mood-tracking technologies, sentiment analysis algorithms and stress-busting meditation techniques are put to work in the service of certain political and economic interests.” 4 likes
“Positive psychology, which repeats the mantra that happiness is a personal ‘choice’, is as a result largely unable to provide the exit from consumerism and egocentricity that its gurus sense many people are seeking.” 3 likes
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