web site hit counter The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being - Ebooks PDF Online
Hot Best Seller

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

Availability: Ready to download

When Jeremy Bentham proposed that government should run “for the greatest benefit of the greatest number,” he posed two problems: what is happiness and how can we measure it? With the rise of positive psychology, freakonimics, behavioural economics, endless TED talks, the happiness manifesto, the Happiness Index, the tyranny of customer service, the emergence of the quanti When Jeremy Bentham proposed that government should run “for the greatest benefit of the greatest number,” he posed two problems: what is happiness and how can we measure it? With the rise of positive psychology, freakonimics, behavioural economics, endless TED talks, the happiness manifesto, the Happiness Index, the tyranny of customer service, the emergence of the quantified self movement, we have become a culture obsessed with measuring our supposed satisfaction. In anecdotes that include the Buddhist monk who lectured the business leaders of the world at Davos, why the Nike Fuel band makes us more worried about our fitness, how parts of our city are being rebuilt in response to scientific studies of oxytocin levels in our brain, and what a survey from Radisson hotels—that proves that 62% of us believe that well-being is a luxury worth more than work or a good relationship—really tells us about the way we measure ourselves, and continually find ourselves wanting. The pursuit of happiness only makes us sad—and the rise in depression and anxiety proves it.


Compare

When Jeremy Bentham proposed that government should run “for the greatest benefit of the greatest number,” he posed two problems: what is happiness and how can we measure it? With the rise of positive psychology, freakonimics, behavioural economics, endless TED talks, the happiness manifesto, the Happiness Index, the tyranny of customer service, the emergence of the quanti When Jeremy Bentham proposed that government should run “for the greatest benefit of the greatest number,” he posed two problems: what is happiness and how can we measure it? With the rise of positive psychology, freakonimics, behavioural economics, endless TED talks, the happiness manifesto, the Happiness Index, the tyranny of customer service, the emergence of the quantified self movement, we have become a culture obsessed with measuring our supposed satisfaction. In anecdotes that include the Buddhist monk who lectured the business leaders of the world at Davos, why the Nike Fuel band makes us more worried about our fitness, how parts of our city are being rebuilt in response to scientific studies of oxytocin levels in our brain, and what a survey from Radisson hotels—that proves that 62% of us believe that well-being is a luxury worth more than work or a good relationship—really tells us about the way we measure ourselves, and continually find ourselves wanting. The pursuit of happiness only makes us sad—and the rise in depression and anxiety proves it.

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    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 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 accompanied by a near obsessive interest in ‘happiness’ – although a very particular form of happiness, one that is very much individual-centred and focused on building resilience and self-reliance. In fact, the whole ‘positive psychology’ phenomenon comes in for a bit of a kicking in this book. And deservedly so. The question raised is, why now? Why are we so interested in happiness at this particular point in history? Especially when the happiness we seem most interested in is quite so narcissistic and even solipsistic? To answer this the author gives quite nice thumb-nail sketch histories of utilitarianism, behaviourism, Mont Pelerin / Chicago School economics, University of St Louis psychiatry and Taylorism. The basic argument is that Jeremy Bentham believed that pleasure and pain were the main motivating forces in life and that both are essentially able to be measured. And if we were able to measure them we could provide an objective scale to the ‘greatest good to the greatest number’ – we would know, without needing to ask the people concerned, how much pleasure or pain they were receiving and could then see how to increase pleasure and reduce pain as if by turning dials. Much of subsequent psychiatry seems to have been interested in finding out just these forms of objective measures – today they come in machines that measure brain function and so on – the lengths we go to rather than talk to people about how they are feeling... The point being to provide not merely an unambiguous diagnosis of someone’s condition, but also to provide a more or less foolproof means to move them towards ‘wellness’. The problem is that happiness has rather odd definitions under capitalism. The first thing to note is that capitalism is based on work that is, for the vast majority of people, pretty damn awful. Dull, mindless, authoritarian, mostly badly paid and definitely not what you would choose to do on a sunny afternoon under any other circumstances. In fact, for most people most of the time under capitalism, work needs to be seen as both a moral imperative and something you either do or you don’t eat. This is less carrot and stick, and more Bible and whip. Doing work that you have no interest in and doing it for years on a low wage that barely keeps your body and soul together is not one of the more recognised paths to happiness. The problem is that people have basically worked this out all for themselves. And so depression has become a chronic condition worldwide. Chicago School economics sees competition as the main human condition and source of prosperity. But competition can only work when there are winners and losers. And it is not in the least bit clear that dog-eat-dog worlds are particularly happy places. Now, a bit of a side-track. Marx believed that capitalism produced its own grave-diggers, and he believed this for a number of reasons. The first was that capitalism e tends to reduce everyone to the same (or similar) condition over time – everyone ends up either a boss or a worker. Marx felt that with so many workers in direct contact with each other and all of them suffering the same life conditions (with the stress placed on ‘suffering’), that they would recognise their common interests and overthrow those who were making their lives a misery. It didn’t quite work out like this. In fact, one thing capitalism has been particularly good at has been in making people atomised – so that even as their lives became more and more similar, they go on believing they are distinctly different individuals – often on the basis of dividing themselves into groups distinguished by the colour of the cardigans they are wearing (or something equally absurd) – the illusion of choice. Perhaps the greatest paradox of capitalism is how it convinces everyone they are individuals while convincing them that they will exhibit their individuality by purchasing goods that are mass produced. The stuff in this book on advertising is particularly good, but I’m not going to cover it, sorry. The collapse of trade unions (in Australia and within a generation we went from over 50% of the working population being members of unions to about 15% today) clearly undermines Marx’s dream. All the same, people are increasingly without hope that things will get better, and this is having a telling impact. The utter meaninglessness of their work and lives more generally is often felt as a grinding force. As such, depression is inevitable. The problem is, as Marx also said, the ruling ideas of any age are those of the ruling class – and so it is with theories of happiness. What you can’t really expect is for people to say that the problem is that how our society is organised crushes any hope of happiness from people. Rather, what we have seen is that psychiatry as a major system in our society has focused on trying to cure the individual so they can go back to being productive cogs in the machine. As the author says at one point, if you electrocute a dog over and over again, eventually the dog will come to accept that being electrocuted is just the way the world works. The dog will seek ways to live with being electrocuted. It is this kind of ‘resilience’ that much of psychiatry seeks to produce in people who are equally being punished by how the world is structured against them. Generally, psychiatry does this with drugs. As the author says here, often psychiatric conditions are defined around the known therapeutic effects of medications – what’s the point in having a horse and a cart if you have to have them in order all of the time? There was a meme I saw recently on Facebook of a conversation between a boss and a worker. The boss says they want to improve the business’s working conditions, the worker says that’s great, what about higher pay and maybe some family leave – the boss says they were thinking more along the lines of lunchtime yoga sessions. That pretty much sums up much of this book. We are meaning making machines, we want the world to make sense and we want to have some impact on that world. But increasingly our lives are pawns to ‘interests’ of other people, and our work is pre-programmed to be just about as awful as it is possible to make it to be. But to make sure we don’t complain about the sheer awfulness of it all, our jobs are also made as precarious as possible too, so we have no other option but to keep turning up, to ‘grin and bare it’ – ever wondered why ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ has become so popular lately? We are told to blame ourselves when we think our lives are hideous, pointless and worse, but the solution is also within ourselves too. So, if yoga isn’t the answer, what is? I think the only real answer is to find ways to turn to other people. We need to rebuild community – dog-eat-dog no longer works (if it ever did) - we need to find a better life together. We don’t need to find new ways to suffer the pain of people electrocuting us, but rather to stop them bloody doing it in the first place. And that isn’t something we can do on our own. We need to do that together.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Dee

    "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 "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. More reviews on my blog.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Emma Sea

    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 Y 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!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tara Brabazon

    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 the deep sla 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 the deep slash in 'business as usual' capitalism. Instead of confronting the causes of the GFC - particularly the decline of regulation in the finance industries - individuals are medicated and given performance development reviews to assess their 'engagement.' Individuals are blamed for not committing to bizarre key performance indicators, rather than questioning the mode, form and shape of work in the 'always on' digitized workforce. Any manager complaining about staff 'engagement,' anyone selling 'wellness' packages, anyone wondering why stress is increasing, this book provides profound answers. It will change how you think about happiness, and how it is being packaged and sold to medicate a sick workplace culture. Amazing. Powerful. Read it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    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 Ryan Halliday, from O 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 Ryan Halliday, from Outliers to Linchpins, from erroneous Tibetan interpretations to overhyped Oriental secret collections, it's just all the f*cking same. But this entire thing begets the question - If self help books work, why are there so many of them? Take your time. Close this review right now and THINK. Use this time to have a debate in your head about this question, as painful and revealing as it might be. As a human being, you have deserved this time of thinking. After all, you think therefore you are. I read this book during a time of extreme existentialism of my life. I lost two of the closest people in my life to death in the past few months. The anxiety attacks are now getting ridiculous. And being a closet introvert doesn't always help when you are dealing with such things because you have created 13 billion scenarios in which things can go incomprehensibly wrong before you even say the word 'Hello'. But the entire culture around us is so obsessed with being happy, that being sad is criminal. #WhySadBeHappy #LoveMyLife #SuchHashtagsMuchWow Having a trust in the idea that books can be better friends than dogs, cats or travel, I read a lot of these self help books. And every page of those books I turned, my subconscious thought - 'WTH! This is good for a pre-huge-world-cup-finals pep talk, but how pragmatic is this! You told me the 'what', where is the 'how'? What if I fail the 'how'?', Am i doing something wrong? Maybe I am, I suck.'. That's the feeling I used to end up with after reading any of these self help books. But this book, this innocence destroying book that I fell in love within a mere span of hours - if this book had been a human, I would be ready to have it's babies. To give you a brief idea about its content, Davies states that research and thought in the concept of happiness have not been directed towards improving the lives of individual people, but have rather been aimed at increasing workforce productivity, purchasing interests and economic output. We always suspected it. With a few further references to the meddling of pharmaceutical industries in psychiatric diagnostic criteria and Facebook experimenting with mood manipulation, this is a book reveals somethings with some scientific backing that is uncomfortably numb. But the real genius of this book is its ability to move seamlessly between philosophy, economics, psychology, and politics, covering huge swathes of research from the bizarre to the revolutionary. It's not pithy, it's pragmatic. I can see why the score of this book on Goodreads is low - it can really hit you hard mentally. But, when things hit hard, we remember them. Least of all, I know that the next time I stop by the bookstore and come across a new self help book, I will first have an impulse to buy it, stop midway, smile, put the book down and walk away.

  6. 4 out of 5

    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 suffering expe 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 suffering experienced by the individual . . . . evidence from social epidemiology paints a worrying picture of how unhappiness and depression are concentrated in highly unequal societies with strongly materialist, competitive values . . . . 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 current political economy may be surmounted, without confronting any serious political-economic questions" (9). At the same time, new technologies are allowing much more widespread monitoring and tweaking of happiness ("experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks") He outlines the paradoxical ways in which market research -- finding out what people want -- gets subverted by the assumption/bias/requirement that whatever states/desires are discovered can be filled through products/purchases (103). He works to avoid cynicism by using the unhappiness of many contemporary people as a catalyst for political-social-economic reform: "If capitalism is being ground down by the chronic, unspecifiable alienation of those it depends on, then surely solving that problem may also open up possibilities for political reform? The hard economic costs that ennui now places upon employers and governments means that human misery has shown up as a chronic problem that elites cannot simply shove aside. The question of what type of work, and what type of workplace organization, might generate a real sense of commitment and enthusiasm on the part of workers should not be abandoned altogether." (109) This was fascinating -- the degree to which competition and unequal outcomes breed depression: "More equal societies, such as Scandinavian nations, record lower levels of depression and higher levels of well-being overall, while depression is most common in highly unequal societies such as the United States and the United Kingdom" (142; cites The Spirit Level: It is a well-established fact that in rich societies the poor have shorter lives and suffer more from almost every social problem. The Spirit Level, based on thirty years of research, takes this truth a step further. One common factor links the healthiest and happiest societies: the degree of equality among their members. Further, more unequal societies are bad for everyone within them-the rich and middle class as well as the poor. The remarkable data assembled in The Spirit Level exposes stark differences, not only among the nations of the first world but even within America's fifty states. Almost every modern social problem-poor health, violence, lack of community life, teen pregnancy, mental illness-is more likely to occur in a less-equal society.). More specifically, studies have demonstrated connections between those who participate in competitive sports and depression (143). He then argues that neo-liberalism, since the 1970s, has embedded this ethos of competition and moving from "better" to "more" into the culture in the US and Britan (146). He outlines the Chicago School of Economics view that restricted choices are acceptable because they "produce more utility overall." There is no good beyond allowing competition free rein: "to anyone complaining that today's market is dominated by corporate giants . . . go and start a future corporate giant yourself. What is stopping you? Do you not desire it enough? Do you not have the fight in you? If not, perhaps there is something wrong with you, not with society. This poses the question of what happens to the large number of people in a neoliberal society who are not possessed with the egoism, aggression and optimism of a Milton Friedman or a Steve Jobs." -- those people need to be medicated. Outlines the history of defining depression as a disease in the DSM. "Henceforth, a mental illness was something detectable by observation and classification, which didn't require any explanation of why it had arisen" (174). And the connections between depression and neoliberalism: Bentham's utilitarianism was a communal measure: one person's happiness could be impeded for another person's benefit. "The depressive-competitive disorder of neoliberalism arises because the injunction to achieve a higher utility score -- be that measured in money or physical symptoms - becomes privatized. Very rich, very successful, very healthy firms or people could, and should, become even more so . . . . authority consists simply in measuring, rating, comparing and contrasting the strong and the weak without judgement, showing the weak how much stronger they might be, and confirming to the strong that they are winning, at least for the time being . . . . this condemns most people to the status of failures, with only the faint hope of future victory to cling onto" (179). There was a fair amount of either complicated or a vague stuff about the ways in which notions of social capital/generosity/altruism are in fact being harnessed to the capitalist project, touted most for their benefits to the practitioner rather than the community. What positive psychology ultimately does, Davies argues, is reduce relationships to "what am I getting out of this"/psychological pleasures. "As an endless stream of grandiose spectacles, Face book makes individuals feel worse about themselves and their own lives" (Ethan Kross et al., "Facebook use predicts decline in subjective well-being in young adults", PLOS One 8:8, 2013). "Relationships are there to be created, invested in and -- potentially -- abandoned, in pursuit of psychological optimization" (210). Fascinating example of the healing powers of Growing Well, a cooperative vegetable growing public benefit organization in which anyone can volunteer, founded by a person who had done his masters on the benefits of participatory business practices (co-ops). "It [may be] precisely the behaviourist and medical view of mind -- as some sort of internal boidly organ or instrument which suffers silently -- that locks us into forms of passivity associated with depression and anxiety in the first place. A society designed to measure and manage fluctuations in pleasure and pain . . . may be set up for more instances of 'mental breakdown' than one designed to help people speak and participate" (249). "Treating the mind (or brain) as some form of decontextualized entity that breaks down of it sown accord, requiring monitoring and fixing by experts, is a symptom of the very culture that produces a great deal of unhappiness today. Disempowerment is an integral part of how depression, stress and anxiety arise . . . and occurs as an effect of social, political and economic institutions and strategies, not of neural or behavioural errors." (250) Research traditions that share this focus on disempowerment community psychology, US 1980s, individuals can only be understood in social contexts David Smail Mark Rapley: "allied to a critique of capitalism, these pscyhologists have offered alternative interpretations of psychiatric symptoms, based on a more sociological and political understanding of unhappiness" (250) social epidemiology, Carles Muntaner in Canada, Richard Wilkinson UK, tries to understand how mental disorders vary across different societies and different social classes, correlating with different socioeconomic conditions "Once the critical eye is turned upon institutions, and away from the emotion or mood of the individual who inhabits them, things start to look very different indeed. Among wealthy nations, the rate of mental illness correlates very closely to the level of economic inequality across society as a whole, with the United States at the top . . . unemployment exerts a far more negative effect on people psychologically than the mere loss of earnings would suggest [studies show that $250K annually would be required to make unemployed people psychologically whole] . .. . employee well-being is higher in employee-owned companies, where decision-making is more participatory and authority more distributed . . . David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu have [documented precise ways in which austerity policies lead to deteriorating mental and physical health and ways in which recessions can be an opportunity for improvements in public health]. people find work more fulfilling in not-for-profit organizations than in private businesses, leading to lower stress levels." (252). Materialism and loneliness are correlated and mutually reinforcing. "What it all comes down to is the question of how power is distributed in society and in the economy. Where individuals feel buffeted by forces over which they have no influence - be that managerial discretion, financial insecurity, images of bodily perfection, relentless performance measures, the constant experiments of social media platforms, the diktats of well-being gurus -- they will not only find it harder to achieve contentment in their lives, but they will also be at much greater risk of suffering some more drastic breakdown. As Muntaner's research has shown, those at the bottom of the income scale are most vulnerable in this respect. Trying to maintain a stable family while income is unpredictable and work is insecure is among the most stressful things a person can do. No politician should be permitted to stand up and talk about mental health or stress without also clarifying where they stand on the issue of economic precariousness of the most vulnerable people in society. "Why does this critical discourse not achieve more political bite? . . . in the long history of scientifically analyzing the relationship between subjective feelings and external circumstances, there is always the tendency to see the former as more easily changeable than the latter. As many positive psychologists now enthusiastically encourage people to do, if you can't change the cause of your distress, try and alter the way you react and feel instead. This is also how critical politics has been neutralized. "Altering social and economic structures is not easy. It is frustrating, unpredictable and often deeply disappointing. What is hard to deny, however, is that it becomes virtually impossible ot do in any legitimate way once institutions and individuals have become so precoocupied by measuring and manipulating individual feelings and choices." (250-255). "Psychology is a door through which we pass on the way to political dialogue, rather than . . . the Benthamite and behaviorist traditions which view psychology as a step towards physiology and/or economics, precisely so as to shut the door on politics." (267). Richard Bentall: even quite severe forms of mental illness, usually treated with psychiatric medications, can be alleviated through a "careful form of engagement with the sufferer and their life history . . . listening and talking will not 'cure' them, because they are not 'treatments' in the first place. But behind the symptoms of psychosis and schizophrenia there are stories and emotional injuries which only a good listener will discover . . . it may now be more radical to highlight precisely the ways in which ordinary people do know what they're oding, can make sense of their lives, are clear about their interests . . one of the most important human capacities rediscovered by the sociological psychologist is the ability of the speaker to offer a critical judgment. To describe a critique or a complaint as a form of 'unhappiness' or 'displeasure' is to bluntly misunderstand what those terms mean . . .. the attempt to drag all forms of negativity under a single neural or mental definition of unhappiness (often classed as depression) is perhaps the most pernicious of the political consequences of utilitarianism generally. "If we understand concepts such as 'critique' and 'complaint' properly, we will recognize that they involve a particular form of negative orientation towards the world, that both the critic herself and her audience are aware of . . . . notions such as 'critique' and 'complaint' mean nothing without also appreciating that people have the unique power to interpret and narrate their own lives . . . . recognizing that people get angry, critical, resistant and frustrated is to understand that they have reasons to feel or act in these ways . . . there are good reason to accept the narratives that people offer about their own lives. If someone is invited to express her feeling (rather than instructed to correctly name or quantify it), she makes it into a social phenomenon. Once people are critical or angry, they can also be critical or angry about something which is external to themselves . . . . this is already a less lonely, less depressive, less narcissistic state of affairs than one in which people wonder how their minds or brains are behaving, and what they should do to improve them" (27) some interesting philosophical stuff on the power of listening in a world system based on the power to observe and visualize (268) "Businesses which are organized around a principle of dialogue and co-operative control would be another starting point for a critical mind turned outwards upon the world, and not inwards upon itself. One of the advantages of employee-owned businesses is that they are far less reliant on the forms of psychological control that managers of corporations have relied on since the 1920s. There is no need for somewhat ironic HR rhetoric about the 'staff being the number one asset' in firms where that is constitutionally recognized. It is only under conditions of ownership and management which render most people expendable that so much 'soft' rhetorical effort has to be undertaken to reassure them that they are not [LOL *how* many times have I thought this at work!] "Any faintly realistic account of organizations must recognize that there is an optimal amount of dialogue and consultation, between zero at one end (the Frederick Taylor position) and constant deliberation. Arguing for democratic business structures cannot plausibly mean the democratization of every single decision, at every moment in time. But it is not clear that the case for management autarchy still works either, even on its own terms. If the argument for hierarchies is that they are efficient, cut costs, get things done, a more nuanced reading of much of the research on unhappiness, stress, depression and absence in the workplace would suggest that current organizational structures are failing even in this limited aim. "Consultation or dialogue which is purely there to make employees feel valued is useless and repeats the same error yet again. The goal is not to make employees feel valued, but the rearrange power relations such that they are valued, a state of affairs that will most likely influence hwo they feel as a side effect." (273) democratic dialogue is a skill that can be developed: "This is the real power of institutions, that they actively teach particular ways of feeling, and it is at once evidence that we have not nearly enough institutions which practically teach democracy. Examples of successful co-operatives confirm the truth in Williams's insight: over time, members become more skilled in deliberating about the collective and less likely to use democratic structures as vent for their private grievances and unhappiness . . . It is a telling indicator of how our political culture has changed in the past half century, that the contemporary equivalent of Williams's suggestion is that we teach resilience and mindfulness: silent relationships to the self, rather than vocal relationships to the other. "Stress can be viewed as a medical problem, or it can be viewed as a political one . . . it arises in circumstances where individuals have lost control over their working lives . .. markets are not necessarily the problem; indeed they can be part of an escape from pervasive psychological control [have *so* seen this with the point system in our house]. Traditional paid work has a transparency around it which makes additional psychological and somatic management unnecessary. In contrast, workfare and internship arrangements which are offered as ways of making people feel more optimistic or raising their self-esteem replace exchange with further psychological control, often coupled to barely concealed exploitation" (274),

  7. 5 out of 5

    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, utilitarianism). Ob 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, utilitarianism). Obviously, a problem is encountered: just how do we measure happiness? Can happiness even be quantified? Davies traces two recurring assumptions back to Bentham: first, that yes, happiness can be quantified, somehow, and second, that people can’t be trusted to simply report their own level of happiness, but that some objective measure is needed instead. Bentham hypothesized that this might be heart rate or money (which provides the starting point for the economic part of this book); in the 21st century, fMRI and sentiment analysis, for example, have come to the fore. The result is a technocratic politics whereby individuals aren’t trusted to make decisions for themselves, and instead have decisions made for them by experts (and what, asks Davies, happens when an individual’s own perception of their mood differs from the expert’s analysis? The model seems to leave no room for this). At the same time, an increasing tendency towards ‘medicalization’ occurs — treating more and more mental states as if they are illnesses, coincidentally often just as a drug is found that could treat that illness. Each time, the root of the problem is shifted from society, into the brain; if you’re unhappy, it couldn’t possibly be due to problems at work or in your personal life, but simply a chemical imbalance. Similarly, concepts like ‘resilience’ shift the focus away from altering a situation which causes stress or unhappiness, and towards simply learning to tolerate it better. All of these processes involve interactions between business, government, and academia; it’s not a suggestion of a conspiracy theory, but of emergent tendencies given certain conditions and assumptions. This isn’t really an anti-capitalist book. Many of the problems could just as easily exist under socialism, and conversely, the potential solutions do not necessarily require the abolition of capitalism (indeed, he notes that even a straightforward market would be preferable to some of the extremes of manipulation discussed in the book). It’s an argument for individual agency: people are happier at work when they have more control over their workplace (genuine control, and not simply the illusion of control that is increasingly popular). More broadly, what’s called for is simply taking people seriously, allowing them to express their own opinions and desires rather than assuming that their ‘real’ opinions and desires are different, subconscious, and only discoverable by experts.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    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 from ancient 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 from ancient philosophy through Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian philosophy through the Cheltenham Literature Festival, behaviourism, advertising and technology. It is well laid out and in some ways quite disturbing. I learned much I did not know. A comment early in the book sets the stage: ”The risk is that this science ends up blaming – and medicating – individuals for their own misery, and ignores the context that has contributed to it.” Gallup has estimated that unhappiness amongst workers costs the US economy $500billion a year in lost productivity. When you read that figure, you immediately think how do they know that? Facebook has altered hundreds of thousands of users moods by manipulating their news feeds. That is what this book is about. There is a conflict between the genuine positive psychologists and happiness economists who tell us that material possessions do not increase our mental wellbeing and the consumer psychologists and market researchers who tell us that we achieve emotional satisfaction by spending money. The narrative explains why and how both sides think. It is well written and easy for a layperson to follow. The use of twitter and Facebook has allowed much useful data to be captured about how we ‘think’ and the spread of our narcissism has become a research opportunity. Tuesday is the least happy day of the week and Saturday is the happiest… All this would be fine if we owned it and knew what was being done for us and indeed to us… but we don’t! Reading this book will open your eyes to surprising and yet still entertaining things. It is recommended to anyone studying sociology or psychology or any branch of advertising and market research. It will also be interesting to any general reader keen to understand how government and big business can manipulate us without our knowledge. But all in all it is an interesting and well-written history of how we have changed our attitudes towards what makes us happy over the years. I was given a copy of this book by Netgalley in return for an honest review.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Uwe Hook

    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 deal with th 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 deal with the causes, happiness consultants actually advise companies to find the unhappiest 10%, and lay them off for being unhappy, somehow inspiring everyone else to become “super engaged.” Get happy or get out. Over a third of Westerners suffer from some sort of mental health problem, he says, usually undiagnosed. It leads to inactivity, non productivity, lower government revenues and higher costs as the unhappy tap government services. It may already reduce GDP by 3-4%. Now a far greater cost than crime, it’s expected to double in the next 20 years. It currently costs the American economy half a trillion dollars. There is an undercurrent of cynicism throughout The Happiness Industry, as Davies relates crackpot theories and crackpot theorists. Then he comes clean with force: “Once social relationships can be viewed as medical and biological properties of the human body, they can become dragged into the limitless pursuit of self optimization that counts for happiness in the age of neoliberalism.” He says disempowerment is at the bottom of stress, anxiety, frustration and mental problems. Not knowing if you have adequate income or even work is the most stressful condition in society. And it is now a way of life. By promoting happiness, companies deflect these anxieties without addressing them. It is a power play over employees and customers. Companies want everyone’s decisions to be predictable, so they frame everything to maximize that, creating a new normal for both happiness as a state of being, and for data collection. The book takes a very dark turn, as happiness requires a surveillance society to work properly. How happy were you yesterday, Davies asks? We can tell you exactly by your tweets, facebook posts, texts, pins and instagrams. Also your health-recording wristband. “They” no longer care what people say in surveys; raw data is far more trustworthy. It is a fascinating turnaround for happiness, and well worth understanding, because it’s coming to company near and dear to you.

  10. 4 out of 5

    River

    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.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Filip Kis

    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 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 utilitarianism in late 18th century, to todays day of quantified self and modern workforce. There are couple of things I still remember that I want to single out: 1) The most shocking part for me was when Davis talks about the 20th century and how modern psychology and psychiatric practice was developed. It has been greatly influenced by political goals which has lead to the current state where most of psychiatrists are focusing on removing the symptoms of various mental illnesses, rather than understanding and preventing the root causes. We know so little about ourselves and our nature (compared to physics, chemistry and other natural sciences which we have studies for centuries) and yet most of the research today is funded by big-pharma with very different goals than what might be in our best interest. 2) Towards the end Davis points out how we are living in age where we are finally (probably) able to measure happiness and other factors in a way that the old scientists and philosophers could only dream about. We don't need to relay anymore on surveys and experiments, which are always problematic because people know they are being observed, but instead we have millions and millions of people giving more and more personal information freely online. However, do we know what is it used for and how? Are we as society going to benefit from it, or is it corporations that have the data who are mostly benefiting from it? And should we give out so much? 3) Davis also questions how we perceive happiness today? Are we really going to be more happy if we, e.g. go to that trip or try that activity, or do we think we will because we see happy people on facebook doing it and we want to be like that? 4) Towards end he gives some positive examples that might be moving in a right (or at least better) direction. And while I don't remember the details, I think one point was that we should find a way to make work meaningful for ourselves. We should feel ownership over the business we're working for (I think an example was people working on a farm and owning part of it as well, or something like that). That's all, I might go back to it at some point to refresh my memory and provide a better summary.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Eve Dangerfield

    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 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 we put human happiness on a scale and then organize society according to what makes the most people the happiest? Turns out that's easier said than done. And also inspires a lot of advertisers and corporations to collect infinite amounts of data about you so they can sell you shit under the false impression that it will make you happy. Gah. Honestly, I thought this book would hone in on the hypocrisy of the Wellness Industry more, but I enjoyed the historical aspects of the novel; learning about how psychology and neuroscience were used to make the most effective advertisements possible, to argue for a free market that may wind up killing us and to attempt to map human behaviour in a way that, let's face it, is impossible. But the biggest thing I got out of THI was that mental disorders such as depression and anxiety run rampant in societies where humans grow up with a lot of materialistic advertising and are encouraged to be self, wealth and competition obsessed. Also that a good long term cure for these epidemic-level illnesses might be creating a more economically balanced and fair society (again, what else is new). Instead, we get the Wellness Industry telling us we can ALL BE HAPPY if we buck up, drink plenty of water, get a job and stop being such Debbie Downers about so-called 'inequality' and 'social structures put into place so small groups of oligarchs can rule the world with an iron fist.' Double Gah. Fine. But this is a really good book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Minh

    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. 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 chapter (“Critical animals”) was what I imagined this entire book would be. Regardless, I really like the book, probably because this topic is relatively new to me, and it didn’t hurt to know the origin story of the happiness industry. Davies has done justice to the development of the industrialized mental investment as he took the readers chronologically through economic, political, psychological, and philosophical perspectives to explore the topic. The structure of the book is well organized and there is a sense of consistency throughout, which helps a lot in keeping my engagement; plus, his voice is academic and formal yet easy to understand. I also appreciate the fact that he introduces many concepts (accompanied by intimidating -ism words, ha ha) and explores them in-depth as opposed to just verbosely mentioning them. His tour to the past also includes notable figures and technological development related to the topic. Although he did not tackle the premise in the way I thought he would, he was successful in a way that makes me reevaluate positive psychology and more aware of the underlining motif to well-being campaigns. I would definitely recommend this book to everyone. If you haven’t any mistrust of the elites (ie. scientists, politicians, big corporates, etc.), you will; if you already are skeptical of how the society is designed, you will have another well-reasoned point to argue.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Horza

    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 grasped by adv 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 grasped by advertisers, policymakers and management as a means of personalising social problems and silencing troublesome voices. And yes, I get the irony of reviewing this on a social media platform, but ya gotta do it somewhere. 9.812 hedons out of 10

  15. 4 out of 5

    Electric

    Reads like a low impact episode of black mirror. The road to hell seems to be paved with good intentions and quotes by Jeremy Bentham. There is also an awesome Citations Needed podcast episode with the author: Click Click Reads like a low impact episode of black mirror. The road to hell seems to be paved with good intentions and quotes by Jeremy Bentham. There is also an awesome Citations Needed podcast episode with the author: Click Click

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lara

    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.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Dipa Raditya

    Well-being and happiness now can be solely commodified as something not just obligatory but also a newfound capital.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Sanders

    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 duty than obeying rules. In reality, 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 duty than obeying rules. In reality, our enflamed consumer-based desires are tied to economic theories which happen to increase social isolation, enhance depression, and undermine our democratic values. When did it all begin? Benthem and Utilitarianism Around the time of the French Revolution and before the inclusion of the words “pursuit of happiness” into our Constitution, Jeremy Bentham was obsessed with finding policies that would yield the “right action to produce the maximum happiness for the largest portion of the population.” This Utilitarian belief aimed to create a science of happiness – a way to empirically arrive at decisions that maximized happiness and circumvented political and legal debate. Bentham found language to be meaningless, because it required interpretation. Science meant measurement and during the Enlightenment, measurement was a global obsession. The late 1700s was the era of the marine chronometer, thermometer, and the National Archives in Paris which standardized weights and measurements across Europe. Benthem hypothesized that there was a correlation between happiness and pulse rate, also between money and happiness. And while other scientists worked to measure happiness in relation to weight, pressure, and psychophysical signals, the idea that emotional experiences could be quantified, began to radically change everything. The Industrialization of Happiness Around the 1880’s, the ideas of Benthem took hold in the minds of the people tasked to manage and market the business booms of the Industrial Revolution, particularly in America. Combating worker fatigue and disengagement, as well as the consideration of the psychosomatic effects of factory work, became a national concern. Fredrick Taylor was one of the first to tackle the issue of “worker happiness” in the steel industry by using Big Data. He monitored, surveyed, calculated, and amassed huge amounts of observational data on worker experience to help factories and plants run more efficiently. A clear Utilitarian example of finding truth in gigantic data sets. Later in the 1920s, Taylor’s concept was expanded by thinkers like Elton Mayo and Hans Seyle, who discovered the concept of “stress” and considered how language in the workplace can affect the “whole person.” However, solving the problem of stress was not the main goal – the main goal was creating resilient workers that kept on working. Managers, therapists, and psychiatrists could now help workers perceive the stress and pain of their jobs differently using resilience training and mindfulness – tactics that are still in use today. The Utilitarian concept of “Money,” both as compensation and a means to acquire goods, was now viewed by marketers and managers as a powerful and manipulatable force able to affect people’s inner feelings. This line of thinking granted money an extraordinary power. Money was now considered a measurement device for happiness with marketplaces working as large mind-reading devices, and profits and losses acting as the main influencing forces that made it all possible. With the creation of Aristide Boucicaut’s store “Au Bon Marché” in 1852, the notion of “shopping” first arrived in France. The new experience of shopping included price tags that correlated with the pain of acquiring goods. The philosophy of shopping as an individualized task revolving around pleasure seeking was established – retail culture was born. Retail culture is propped up by several forces – business owners, advertisers, marketers, local and federal governmental agencies, and consumers. Positive psychologists and happiness economists, both historically and in the present, are big on the fact that material possessions don’t make you happy. We see these memes all the time on our social media feeds. Contrast this with the view from marketers, researchers, economists, business owners, and advertisers – a much larger group all working to make sure customers do have an emotional response to purchases. Marketers Bank on Connections Between Money and Happiness Money itself is physically worthless, but it isn’t in our minds. There is almost a baked-in, bi-polar nature to money – it means nothing, but it controls everything. Economies and markets rely on costs and prices that assign “VALUE” – this value is invisible, yet socially agreed upon. Marketers are especially keen on the psychological role that “value” plays in making decisions – and they have been studying it for a while. The official marriage of “happiness” to marketing & psychology, as outlined in this book, occurred during the late 1880s. The rise of psychological principles that placed happiness and other emotions inside our brains, coincided with the formation of marketing and advertising strategies that were engineered to trigger these emotions. We live in a world where Individual happiness is the goal for society. It’s also becoming the goal for government, economics, marketplaces, families, everything. The timeline below is an overview of this progression as outlined in the book. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Everything Needs to Measure Up Perhaps the most interesting part of The Happiness Industry, is the way that Davies explores our societies current obsession with measurement, self-striving entrepreneurship, and Big Data, and uncovers an unwitting source of depression, mental fatigue and democratic poison, all tied to the Utilitarian roots of measuring everything. Our society embraces the soft glow of Utilitarianism – we love measurements; we take civil matters to court and get paid money to settle disputes or injury claims, we ebb and flow with various stock markets, our fortunes are literally tied to our credit scores, and social media is awash with Followers, and Likes, and Shares. And like our Utilitarian forefathers, when it comes time to make decisions on social policy, our society tends to avoid the tangled web of emotional language, we forego complicated debate, and skip over feelings and other subjective fodder, all in deference to algorithms and numbers. In a world where we can’t agree on what’s Good or what’s Bad – measurement offers a solution. What does justice really mean? Truth? Public interest? To the Utilitarian, all of those concepts are meaningless and up for debate. Numbers solve disputes when nothing else can. No qualities, just quantities. Pair this Utilitarian belief in Big Data with the Libertarian, self-actualizing, limited-government, neoliberal, and anti-authority philosophies that are enflaming our current political climate, and you have a recipe for a society in danger. With nothing but private fulfillment as its overarching principle, our “self-made” society believes that inequality is not some moral injustice, it is rather an accurate representation of differences in desire and power. Competition is the lifeblood of the Free Market mentality, and so America. There is no social injustice – just differing layers of “competitive spirit.” What about the people living in this self-actualizing society, who don’t have the drive, egoism, aggression and optimism necessary to compete? What do they do? What happens to the people that don’t measure up? For starters – depression, ever-expanding income inequality, addiction, self-hate, drug-abuse. Davies really hits home when he separates our current conception of negatively experienced emotions as a fault of our stars, and connects these emotions to infrastructural disempowerment. “Disempowerment is an integral part of how depression and stress and anxiety arise. Disempowerment occurs as an affect of social, political and economic institutions and strategies, not of neural or behavioral errors. To deny this is to exacerbate the problem for which Happiness Science claims to be the solution.” Positive psychologists, motivational speakers, and happiness scientists all say that if you can’t change the cause of your distress, you can alter the way you react and feel. It’s that simple – if you don’t like something, just change your perception of it. This neutralizing belief has dangerously migrated into critical politics, where if one comes across an argument on social policy they don’t like, they choose to see it, hear it and react to it in a way that resonates with their beliefs, not with reality. How Can We Change? Looking through the layers of sociology, economics, political debates, exhaustively covered in the book, the main concept behind The Happiness Industry is fairly straight forward – can the experience of being a human be quantified? Today’s neuromarketers, data scientists, behaviorists, and economists are literally banking on the idea that the human experience can be quantified, and that we can and should measure everything. The truth of our emotions will become plain once researchers have decoded our brains, faces, unintentional sentiments. Once researchers have combed through every email and chat and message to find hidden intentions, there will be no need to gather subjective feedback. To the data enthusiast, our conscious statements are untrustworthy and unreliable – our data is our destiny. But is that how human society REALLY functions? Are we all calculators and actuary tables? Democracy is based on the notion that people are capable of voicing their interests deliberately and consciously. If our psychological truths are actually hidden in our data streams and not evident in our conscious choices, then what chance does democracy have? If we ask the question – “What is that person feeling?” you can answer that by observing and interpreting their behavior, or you can ask them how they are feeling. The answer is not inside their head or body, to be discovered, but lies in how the two of you interact. This points to the necessity of “psychological language.” As Davies sees it, the only possible solution is to qualify people as being able to tell you the truth about their own feelings and thoughts. Either we can have theories and interpretations of human behaviors, and we can have a sense of self-governance – OR – we can have behaviorism, monitoring and collecting every available data point and think of society as a controlled experiment in a lab – we can’t have both. To understand happiness, one has to understand it both in terms of how it appears in others, and in terms of how it occurs in oneself. We should use our understanding of ourselves to understand others, and our understanding of others and our species as a way to understand ourselves. To know others is to engage with their stories and how they tell them.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Matvey xd

    good for what it is

  20. 4 out of 5

    Shanta Deva

    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.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Donna Parker

    Everyday in the media and social media I hear about happiness. Happiness Projects, Happiness Quotients, Happiness Index, Gross National Happiness, polls, songs, quotes… what’s with all the happiness? Is wretchedness and melancholy really that out of style? Where are the memes celebrating the drudgery of everyday life? Where are all the T-shirts promoting doom and gloom? If happiness is sooooo easy why does everyone have to be constantly reminded to be happy? When did we become so obsessed with measuring an Everyday in the media and social media I hear about happiness. Happiness Projects, Happiness Quotients, Happiness Index, Gross National Happiness, polls, songs, quotes… what’s with all the happiness? Is wretchedness and melancholy really that out of style? Where are the memes celebrating the drudgery of everyday life? Where are all the T-shirts promoting doom and gloom? If happiness is sooooo easy why does everyone have to be constantly reminded to be happy? When did we become so obsessed with measuring and quantifying happiness? When it became big business, that’s when. I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness lately so I was drawn to The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold us Well-Being by William Davies (Verso). I felt the book was overly academic, like I needed a degree in something to understand it, but it did have some fascinating, logical, brilliant, and disturbing points about how we’re being sold happiness and at what cost. Happiness is a new religion. But what if we’re being sold a one-size-fits-all happiness coat? It seems to insulate us against heartache, but instead, it’s drafty, the seams are fraying, and oops, it’s not waterproof. I’ve been sales-pitched happiness for years, and I’m starting to feel consumer fatigue. I’m guessing a lot of people aren’t feeling ‘the happy’ the way they’re told they should be feeling it, especially if the amount of loneliness, antidepressants, and boredom are any indication. I find people endlessly fascinating, though I could live to be a 1000 and still never grasp their full complexity. Maybe I don’t want to, there’s nothing more thrilling than a mystery. I’ve observed that people seem to think they have to add things and people to their life to be happier, but what if it’s quite the opposite, what if you have to remove things and people to be happier? I decided to start my own Happiness Savings Plan – pool then diversify my assets and lose some liabilities. I want to make sure I keep falling in love, over and over again, with my son’s laughter, books, music, clouds, chocolate, TV, movies, loved ones, conversation, kittens, dreams, puppies, laughter, hope…I’m tired of hearing about: The Kardashians, FIFA, Bruce Jenner/Caitlyn (I don’t care about the choice, I’m just sick of endless publicity-seeking), spy pigeons, wrinkled selfies (pretty much all selfies at this point actually), drought shaming, fat shaming, age shaming, sex mad marsupials…sigh, I’m feeling less happy just thinking about it all. So for the next 365 days my plan is to make changes, one per day, mostly removing things; perhaps it will make me happier, perhaps not, only time will tell. I invite you, my dear readers to join, if you so wish, don’t feel like you need to, or do the same changes. And don’t worry, there won’t be endless posts about my C-C-Changes Plan, just an update here and there… My first week is as follows: 1. Remove 15 minutes or more of internet time per day. 2. Remove 15 minutes or more of news/politics per day. 3. Remove 15 minutes or more of sitting per day. 4. Give up one TV show. 5. Change 15 minutes of screen time into reading or listening to a book time. 6. Take 15 minutes or more to organize . 7. Learn something new each day. It might be challenging, but as G.K. Chesterton reminded us, “There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.” P.S. I’m going for less. http://yadadarcyyada.com/2015/06/03/d...

  22. 4 out of 5

    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 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 support the notion that society needs “happy” citizens in order to continue running “smoothly.” Depression, and other mental illness, costs our unjust society a lot of money. The people in power are concerned about finding it and rooting it out, because a depressed person is not a big spender. A depressed person does not have the energy to play the game. People who are “mentally withdrawn from their jobs… cost the US economy as much as $550 billion a year. Disengagement is believed to manifest itself in absenteeism, sickness, and — sometimes more problematic — presenteeism, in which employees come to the office purely to be physically present. A Canadian study suggests that over a quarter of workplace absence is due to general burn-out, rather than sickness.” The antidepressant industry, the DSM, and the APA are, according to this book, very close friends. Drug companies helped qualify depression as a “disease” so the FDA would approve of medicines (its drugs) to treat it. General unhappiness at life became diagnosable as “depression,” to be treated with antidepressants, which are able to selectively attack the brain in a way that is not fully understood. “Nobody has ever discovered precisely how or why they work, to the extent that they do.” But they work, and they ease the pain of being part of the 99%. “Relative poverty — being poor in comparison to others — can cause as much misery as absolute poverty, suggesting that it is the sense of inferiority and status anxiety that triggers depression, in addition to the stress of worrying about money. For this reason, the effect of inequality on depression is felt much of the way up the income scale.” According to this book, we are being studied by marketers and psychologists who are keeping the machine running smoothly. There is a project underway, “at University of Warwick, UK, [that] has used real suicide notes to teach computers how to spot suicidal thoughts within grammatical construction.” Is that protective — or invasive? The more we voluntarily share about ourselves on the Internet, the easier it is for those gathering the information to influence us. Rage at Facebook’s algorithms and privacy violations “is a symptom of a more general anxiety regarding technologies of psychological control.” I am having difficulty telling whether the author is paranoid, but the arguments he makes are compelling, and well-researched, and I will be thinking of this book for a while.

  23. 5 out of 5

    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's lives bett 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's lives better. While it is true that we ultimately each tell ourselves the story of our lives, this does not mean that larger actors do not have any accountability for how their actions affect others. More focus on these items would have improved the book. Instead, too much space is devoted to trying to disprove that it is impossible to measure happiness. The argument is not convincing, because the author (and to be fair, many of the people described in the book) does not seem to understand that measures are ALWAYS a proxy of reality, yet NEVER are reality. Davies understands the second point, yet seems to feel that this disproves the first point. This leads to a lot of pages devoted to what the author calls "monism". Davies uses the word in an uncommon way to describe trying to sum up a person's well-being as a single measure. It's technically accurate to use it in this way, yet is confusing to anyone who has studied philosophy. Rather than argue that this effort can never lead to a credible result (which I am inclined to agree with), the author seems to insist that this is impossible, which is false. The Quantified Self movement also takes a lot of criticism that seems unjustified. Davies' concerns are that this information is far less useful to individuals than to governments and corporations, and that this drives increased self-awareness at the expense of larger social action. It seems much more plausible to me that greater self-awareness is more likely to lead to greater overall awareness and action, not less. Social action and introspection don't seem to be an either/or situation, and it was surprising to see this argument advanced. Overall, this book is thought-provoking and interesting. While it isn't for everyone, it is a recommended read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    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, 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 Pharma "inventing" depression, etc. For a book about measuring well-being, the omission of Csikszentmihalyi's work is suspicious.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Diana

    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 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 the text. That being said, he had some great things to say, and there's a whole lot to talk about around the dinner table. Still, while I do feel like the author tried to make it an interesting read, it still came across as dry. At times, deathly so. I didn't hate it, and I did get things out of it, but I wouldn't read it again.

  26. 4 out of 5

    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.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    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.

  28. 5 out of 5

    John

    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 good life. I have read seve 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 good life. I have read several books on happiness to this point. Most have been by philosophers who want to wax eloquently about the meaning of life, along with the how and why of human happiness. Their work has really been something to behold since it captures the lofty human ambition that I started this project with. After reading their works, I felt I was gaining confidence to start making my own. But then I got to William Davies and his book on happiness. The Happiness Industry floored me by making me think about happiness in a way that I had not before. Maybe it sounds a little naïve, but I had assumed happiness was a philosophical problem. With enough thought and consideration, anyone could crack the code of happiness and find it within themselves to achieve it. Happiness is, after all, a state of mind that we ascend to if we can find the time and inclination. I thought that if I just read the philosophical works and then committed myself to the problem, I could come to at least frame the 'how' of happiness a little better. Davies’ book challenged my ideas by making me rethink happiness as a psychological, sociological, economic, and (strange, I know) advertising issue. While Aristotle and others located happiness as being the best thinking creatures we can be, Davies instead argues that perhaps happiness is a physiological response that we can measure and tamper with in our daily lives. He analyzes this concept in terms of how mass industries in the 21st century have created and maintained the illusion of happiness to us. Why do we feel that we must purchase the next iPhone? It may have something to do with advertisements and the collective psychological and sociological manipulation of our thinking over generations of advertisers. Put another way, we metaphorically buy and sell our intellectual versions of happiness without really thinking about the entities in the world that influence our understanding of this ideal. Davies cuts through those lofty assumptions by concentrating upon the empirical evidence various scientists (both of the physical and social bent) and advertisers have used to think about the happiness of its customers. This is both exhilarating—after all, who doesn’t want to know what the key to happiness is?—and depressing—you’ll soon ask “Am I that easy to manipulate?”—at the same time. While I believe both emotions will occur in most readers, I also would wager that anyone interested in this phenomena will feel a sense of gratitude by the end of the book for how well Davies frames this dialogue. His critique ranges roughly from the 19th to 21st centuries. His book is well organized, well argued, and intelligently written. I note all of those facts because some people may come to this review wondering if the book will teach them how to be happier. No, absolutely not, for that is another matter entirely. It will, however, teach you how to understand your own expectations of happiness in a world that is too often invisibly shaped by forces you do not understand. Though I enjoy reading in the various fields I mentioned above, Davies’ work connected many disparate dots from those locations so that I could see a clearer picture. His work is essentially one academic paper on the topics I mentioned above. For some people, that will be a grand thing. For others, they will quickly grow bored and abandon his work. I would argue that abandoning it is really too bad. There is a lot on offer here. You may not walk away from the work happier, but you will walk away from it with a better understanding of your own orientation in a world of mass media.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Blake Walsh

    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, https://williamdavies.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 Happine 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, https://williamdavies.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 way for Davies to communicate his ideas and findings in the realms of sociology and politics over other forms of media. (1) The Happiness Industry is a nonfiction book that focuses on political, economic, and scientific issues surrounding the pursuit of happiness and its “industry”. As i stated previously this book is more of a way for Williams Davies to communicate his ideas within certain fields to comprehend more about happiness. So this book contains no plot or characters to explain, what could be considered a plot in this book are findings in the real world. The first topic that Davies dives into at the beginning of the book surrounds how one even measures happiness. Objectively there still isn’t an answer and there may never be, however subjectively there are almost too many answers. Happiness may be success, fortune, helping others, discovering new things, creating something, sharing those experiences with other, and while these are some common things that bring happiness and can individually be measured they cannot be grouped and measured. Davies emphasizes this point by explaining the past struggles of scientists that attempted to categorize and measure satisfaction. No one has been able to create a way to definitively and objectively measure happiness. (2) While happiness is obviously the main focus of the book, to properly illustrate his point, Davies touches on other topics like stress and its relationship with happiness. “Stress can be viewed as a medical problem, or it can be viewed as a political one . . . it arises in circumstances where individuals have lost control over their working lives” (Davies, 274). Stress is a prime example of Davies style of writing and explanation because as the quote states, stress is both a medical and political problem. Davies often takes ideas that may be written off as simple and demonstrates that there is in fact a political side to the issue as well. (2) This book to me personally, is a complete success when trying to communicate ideas and philosophies that Davies is trying to share. Looking at it standing alone as a book it is still decent and very interesting, however as some non-fiction books go it can feel slow and uninteresting if your aren’t interested in one of the political or philosophical topics Davies tackles. This book isn’t one you are going to want to read just whenever you have down time, it is a good book to read when you are in the mood for this style of writing and subject matter. Each section follows similarly core principles unlike the standard fiction book, so evaluating bits and pieces of this book isn’t a fair assessment of the content. The best way to apply that form of analysis would be to go over every main point individually, and where’s the fun in that? (3)

  30. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Cummins

    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 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 medicated. But having Davies argue what I also already believed, that chemically induced happiness was not happiness, and that there was something creepy and suspicious about 'positive psychology' and the self-help industry did not make me feel vindicated. If anything I felt more hopeless than ever. Those friends were living proof that the system outlined by Davies was working perfectly. That being said there is no shadowy conspiracy being uncovered here either. It's all out in the open with we the people privy and party to our own fettering. That "system" in a lot of ways is just a feedback loop of consumer demand. We want to be happy and we want to feel human connection; social media can provide us with a semblance of both but it's that "taste" of what we want which is making us lonelier and less happy. We're children gorging ourselves on brain candy. The Happiness Industry covers a lot, and I would like to reread it one day because I know that what I've remembered here is barely scratching the surface. It does end on a positive note. Nothing groundbreaking but appreciated nonetheless; find purpose, look for community, make decisions and become an active member of something that you consider important. In essence, il faut cultiver notre jardin.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.