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The Promise of Happiness

4.32  ·  Rating details ·  683 ratings  ·  53 reviews
The Promise of Happiness is a provocative cultural critique of the imperative to be happy. It asks what follows when we make our desires and even our own happiness conditional on the happiness of others: “I just want you to be happy”; “I’m happy if you’re happy.” Combining philosophy and feminist cultural studies, Sara Ahmed reveals the affective and moral work performed b ...more
Paperback, 328 pages
Published April 6th 2010 by Duke University Press Books (first published January 1st 2010)
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Average rating 4.32  · 
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Feb 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
the chapters on the various "happiness demands" made of women, queers, and migrants -- how happiness can be both a demand of and a justification of an oppressive status quo -- were good and worthwhile, especially when they got specific.

However, I found Ahmed's conclusions incredibly frustrating. I feel that she misrepresents the context and nature of the affirmative turn in feminism. It's presented as if it's just a continuation of Utilitarian and Aristotelian and commonsense arguments for happ
Possum Paderau
Dec 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book unintentionally saved my life. I've always suspected that being miserable is okay but I never analyzed my depression as useful until reading Ahmed's point of view. This book is touching, easy to read, and hella wise. Her analyses of books/movies became a little tedious but they're worth reading. That's the only "issue" I had with the book. ...more
Sep 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ma-research
I cannot speak highly enough of this book, and more importantly of this woman. She really is what the good stuff is made of! I have spent the past year writing around this kind of material for my thesis, so do not wish to go into a critical analysis of the book here. All I would like to do is to urge everyone to read it. And to even go back and read 'The Cultural Politics of Emotion'.

Today i was writing away at my computer and the cover of this book fell open, and saw her inscription to me on t

i kind of hoped to fall in love with this, but didn't, really. lots of interesting concepts here that i might return to, though, just wasn't always very convinced by the way they were connected.
Tara Brabazon
Feb 12, 2021 rated it liked it
This is a fine book, but it has dated. It required a deeper theorization of commodification - and work.

This book has disconnected from an understanding of work - and leisure. The deep exploitation of most workers - most of the time - is invisible in this discussion.

Yes - happiness is heteronormative. But most citizens - most of the time - are so disconnected from happiness, it is no longer a word of value
I like the main argument - that happiness as a concept is overrated, in a sense that an individual cannot always be the only factor to blame because of his or her mis/fortune, that we are overwhelmed by the think-pink culture and I am also completely in agreement with the author's stance that "the move from happiness to suffering can sprint you into action". But this book is much tooooo long!!!!! The author keeps repeating herself over and over again.... It should have been one marvelous essay.. ...more
Apr 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In The Promise of Happiness, Sarah Ahmed is concerned with addressing the questions and implications associated with happiness. In fact, one of her initial observations that helped foreground her conversation on happiness was a point on associations. She writes, “I am interested in how happiness is associated with some life choices and not others, how happiness is imagined as being what follows being a certain kind of being. The history of happiness can be thought of as a history of associations ...more
Sep 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I am glad I finally had time to sit down and read Ahmed's The Promise of Happiness in full. Although there were a few spots I laboured over, this book gave me new insights on happiness, affect theory and feminism. While I still can't completely wrap my head around affect theory, it fascinates me and I think will be a concept that sticks with me moving forward (hopefully) as an academic. I love to read books like this with a pencil in hand and did just that, adding comments and questions in the m ...more
Emma Sea
May 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Chapters 1-3, on feminist killjoys and unhappy queers, were excellent; 4.5 stars.

Ahmed lost me a bit when it came to migrants and happy futures, although this may be more of a deficit on my part as a reader, rather than her as a writer. I think I'm with Liz on this one.
May 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I adore this book. My only critique is that I don't like the way she split up the chapters according to different identity groups. Otherwise, it's a fantastic examination of the "dark underbelly" of happiness. ...more
Jan 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Such an eye opening book.
May 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
Awesome stuff! Notes from Gender Class Paper:

Being faced with the reality of our situation and and gaining access to knowledge presents us with a seemingly depressing place where there is no escape. But it is perhaps the anger itself that we must begin to deconstruct! Ahmed (2010) presents a profound analysis of how it is the drive for the ‘happiness’ that leads most of us toward following the norm. After all, the acknowledgement of oppression is still signified up until this day as a troublesom
Stuart Page
Oct 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
This is great. Really readable, too (though chapter one was kind of dry - but its important for setting up the context around what is to be discussed so stick with it!) It might take a couple more reads for me to fully absorb what's going on here, and maybe the rating could change after that, but I really, really liked it. It's careful, thoughtful work. Chapters 2, 3 and 4 in particular were fantastic.

I only recently discovered Sara Ahmed but I wish I'd discovered her work soon. (She has a lot
Mar 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Took me awhile to get through, but pretty thought provoking in how we define happiness and how queer theory posits the possibility of different kinds of happiness, ones that as a society haven’t been thought of yet.
Dani Scioscia
Sep 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This gets five stars for the Feminist Killjoy chapter alone (though the rest is extremely valuable too) for putting the thoughts in my head about happiness and feminism onto the page and explaining them so thoroughly. I've thought about it constantly. ...more
Gustave Blåbær
Oct 13, 2020 rated it liked it
Introduction and conclusion are worth the reading. Interesting insights.
Sometimes a bit boring when chapters become a long and detailed exegesis of a movie or a book, it is often too much, and don't say so much exciting for the purpose of the book.
Darcy Oakes
Sep 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I wanted to highlight/underline every word.
Janice Feng
Apr 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
feminist kill-joy
Shraddha Timalsina
Jul 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
It basically is like a very comprehensive film and book review.
Eryk Salvaggio
Dec 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
"The Promise of Happiness" is a analysis of how happiness is invented for people before they have a say in it, and how that happiness comes to define us.

We have an obligation toward our own happiness, a duty, Ahmed notes, towards those who have outlined our happiness for us. Examples abound: Consider parents who warn their gay teenagers, "I just want you to be happy," as a warning that homosexuality will deprive them of that parent's vision of happiness. Or of minorities to stop finding things
Kate Savage
Jul 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
One of my favorite jokes:

Q: How many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: That's not funny.

We've been trying to fight against the stereotypes of the feminist killjoy, dour queer, angry radical, melancholy migrant. It's frightening when someone says Maybe they're right sometimes. Maybe engaging consciously with injustice will make you unhappy. Instead of trying to claim that we're finding some deeper happiness, maybe we should be challenging the supremacy of the promise of happiness to
Frank Cernik
Apr 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Karl Steel
Feb 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theory
No time to write an elaborate review. I'll just say I loved it. Eminently quotable, speaks to much of what I'm working on right now (whether it's happiness for whom, or critiquing activity vs passivity, or going after the affirmative turn, or hope as anxiety). I have my hesitations: for example: not sure why she concludes one chapter looking to filmic dreck like The Island, Antz, and Bee Movie for examples of unhappiness as 'an alternative social gift, as this dreck leads me to believe that the ...more
Erdem Tasdelen
Jun 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
A very timely book. A very good time to be asking the questions that Sara Ahmed is asking. I'm sure most feminists/queers/migrants/non-white people/leftists have indeed experienced this feeling of being perceived as displaying unnecessary unhappiness...

I also really appreciate her varied references. But still, I find her writing slightly repetitive.
Jun 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book since the beginning! I would highly recommend this book to everyone who wants to have a good time, specially on this specific genre, there was a few things that iwould have changed in this book but that happens most of the times i read books so it's not such a big deal. Loved it, thats all i've gotta say. Well deserved five stars. ...more
David Carrasquillo
May 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
I did not have a clear idea of what this book might bring to the table. In spite, of being it written in a highly technical fashion for most of the capters, it has a very personal, fragile and intimate side also. I liked that it can be percieved that the author feels in a very genuine way and tries to expand her views and experiences of love, and happiness to a wider and sociological level.
Apr 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
if u think i don't love sara ahmed...........ur wrong
this book didn't turn my world upside down but it did answer almost exactly the questions i've been having about the imperative to be happy. so to return to my original argument i luv u sara ahmed
Vi Vi
Jun 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Must read for any one interested in social justice.
Scott Neigh
Reviewed here. ...more
Sally Kahiu
Sara Ahmed is amazing in the way she makes us rethink unhappiness. I loved loved this book!
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Sara Ahmed

Sara Ahmed (30 August 1969) is a British-Australian scholar, feminist writer, and activist. Her research is concerned with how bodies and worlds take shape; and how power is secured and challenged in everyday life worlds, as well as institutional cultures , feminist theory, lesbian feminism, queer theory, critical race theory and postcolonialism.

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According to some historians, the month of April is actually named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, by way of the Romans....
42 likes · 26 comments
“Let’s take this figure of the feminist killjoy seriously. Does the feminist kill other people’s joy by pointing out moments of sexism? Or does she expose the bad feelings that get hidden, displaced, or negated under public signs of joy? Does bad feeling enter the room when somebody expresses anger about things, or could anger be the moment when the bad feelings that circulate through objects get brought to the surface in a certain way?” 38 likes
“There is nothing more vulnerable than caring for someone; it means not only giving your energy to that which is not you but also caring for that which is beyond or outside your control. Caring is anxious—to be full of care, to be careful, is to take care of things by becoming anxious about their future, where the future is embodied in the fragility of an object whose persistence matters. Becoming caring is not about becoming good or nice: people who have “being caring” as their ego ideal often act in quite uncaring ways in order to protect their good image of themselves. To care is not about letting an object go but holding on to an object by letting oneself go, giving oneself over to something that is not one’s own.” 21 likes
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