Dee's Reviews > The Happiness Industry: The Economics of Well-Being

The Happiness Industry by William  Davies
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really liked it
bookshelves: 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 our ability to combat stress, misery and illness, and put relaxation, happiness and wellness in their place. Techniques, measures and technologies are now available to achieve this, and they are permeating the workplace, the high street, the home and the human body."


We're all surrounded by the yoga mats, gratitude journals, YouTube meditation tutorials and feel-good slogans of the multi-billion dollar "self help" industry, yet I never stopped to consider how so much of it is just the capitalists' ploy to keep the gears in their money-making machines running smoothly. Unhappiness of employees costs the US economy some $500 billion a year in lost productivity, lost tax receipts and health-care costs, meaning our emotions and wellbeing are no longer our business. They're factors in calculations of economic efficiency and must be monitored and regulated. All the while, this conveniently allows us to ignore the wider economic and social problems that are making us miserable in the first place. Hate your job, can't get out of debt? Just appreciate what you've got, relax with Buddhist meditation and learn to seep joy from simple pleasures like evening walks past jasmine bushes.

The Happiness Industry is a sweeping analysis that blends psychology, economics, marketing, business and sociology to examine how happiness has been historically measured, how our well-being is increasingly a factor in company strategies and how it's all only making us more miserable. It's also a sharp and sarcastic critique of capitalism itself and its laughable attempts at appearing compassionate and selfless.

"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. They are not simply gifted to us for our own Aristotelian flourishing. 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.

Positive psychology and associated techniques then play a key role in helping to restore people's energy and drive. The hope is that a fundamental flaw in our currently political economy may be surmounted, without confronting any serious political-economic questions. Psychology is very often how societies avoid looking in the mirror."


The book begins with a few chapters on how difficult it is to pin down happiness, define or measure it, and moves on to the early history of American psychology showing how it lacked a philosophical heritage from the start and was born amid big business to fix the problems afflicting American industry.

Then comes the fun part: a not-so-gentle mocking of various tactics used to improve our workplace productivity, a look at how increased monitoring in the spirit of "offering us a better" something is largely unquestioned and a sarcastic analysis of the feel-good industry. Finally, an examination of today's neverending quest for the simple yet luxurious life in a world where being unhappy for more than two weeks after the death of a loved one qualifies as a medical illness that makes you eligible for happy pills.

"'Just do it.' 'Enjoy more.' Slogans such as these, belonging to Nike and McDonald's respectively, offer the ethical injunctions of the post-1960s neoliberal era. They are the last transcendent moral principles for a society which rejects moral authority. As Slavoj Zizek has argued, enjoyment has become an even greater duty than to obey the rules. Thanks to the influence of the Chicago School over government regulators, the same is true for corporate profitability."


Who does all this benefit? The book suggests that the more we pursue happiness, the more illusive it becomes and what we're ultimately offered is nothing more than a shallow quasi-Zen naval gazing that only distracts from the larger social problems that must be tackled as the root cause of all the misery. A brilliant, thought-provoking read.

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Reading Progress

March 28, 2015 – Started Reading
March 28, 2015 – Shelved
April 3, 2015 –
30.0% ""American psychology had no philosophical heritage. It was born into a world of big business and rapid social change, which risked spiralling out of control. If it couldn't offer to alleviate the problems that were afflicting American industry and society, then it had no reason to exist at all.""
June 18, 2015 –
page 80
June 18, 2015 –
50.0%
June 26, 2015 –
60.0% "'Just do it.' 'Enjoy more.' Slogans such as these, belonging to Nike and McDonald's respectively, offer the ethical injunctions of the post-1960s neoliberal era. They are the last transcendent moral principles for a society which rejects moral authority. As Slavoj Zizek has argued, enjoyment has become an even greater duty than to obey the rules."
June 26, 2015 – Shelved as: netgalley
June 26, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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message 1: by Hana (new) - added it

Hana Wonderful review, Dee! That photo of the monk at Davos was (in the words of another feel-good ad campaign) "priceless".


message 2: by Jan-Maat (new)

Jan-Maat this conveniently allows us to ignore the wider economic and social problems that are making us miserable in the first place. Hate your job, can't get out of debt? Just appreciate what you've got, relax with Buddhist meditation and learn to seep joy from simple pleasures like evening walks past jasmine bushes

there was a website by an angry woman complaining about companies working to encourage their employees resilience.

After a while I accepted her point - why not just treat people better in the first place? People chewing the carpet is a sign that the set up is wrong, not for the most part that there is a problem with the individual :(


message 3: by Steve (new) - added it

Steve Great review that has generated interest in reading the book. It is eye-opening to think of how much social media has shaped the individual. We're into new territory and it's both fascinating and frightening.


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