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The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold us Well-Being Hardcover – May 12, 2015
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“Deeply researched and pithily argued, Davies’s work is a welcome corrective to the glut of semi-scientific happiness books that have become so popular in business and management circles, and which rarely, if ever, acknowledge the larger ideological goals of workplace well-being.”
—New York Magazine
“Davies’s concern is to show that by making us more resilient and more productive, the happiness industry tricks us into settling for too little.”
—Katrina Forrester, London Review of Books
“Skillfully written intellectual entertainment—prime fodder for postmodern psychologists and New-Age thinkers alike.”
“Davies, explaining the evolution of the science of happiness from the French Revolution to the present, argues it essentially serves the interests of the powerful elite. This challenging book will appeal to academics and students of various disciplines.”
“William Davies argues that our happiness fixation may have more to do with the interests of corporations and governments than personal fulfillment.”
“A brilliant, and sometimes eerie, dissection of our times.”
“Rich, lucid and arresting”
—John Gray, Literary Review
“A thought-provoking and daring intervention into the crowded field of neoliberal political economy … Its bold theses and elegant historical foundation provides political economists with much new material to consider.”
—Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics
“How ‘managing our happiness’ is becoming an increasingly lucrative and insidious industry.”
“An interesting contribution to the growing genre of happiness studies.”
“This is a brilliant and lucidly written indictment of the ideology of happiness and its accompanying horrors of mindfulness and well-being. Davies convincingly shows how the happiness industry is the new front line of capitalism, which has succeeded in exposing the inner recesses of the self to techniques of measurement, surveillance and control.”
—Simon Critchley, author of The Faith of the Faithless
“William Davies reveals the tricks that corporates use to try to keep us happy while treating us as losers. Informed, revealing, scary and hopeful, The Happiness Industry connects economics and management science to psychology and psychiatry to explain why so much feels (and is) so wrong.”
—Danny Dorling, author of Inequality and the 1%
“When did happiness itself become a liability? When the market figured out that making us content is the first stage in manufacturing our consent. In this accessible, fact-filled history of measured happiness, William Davies shows us how metrics of well-being were systematically disconnected from meaning and community, and in the process transformed from the very core of human power into an access panel to our desires and behavior. I can’t listen to that damned ‘Happy’ song anymore without thinking about whom my supposed happiness really serves, and what they’re willing to do to make sure I stay that way.”
—Douglas Rushkoff, author of Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now
“In a heady mixture of psychology, economics, sociology, and philosophy, this book reveals the misguided nature of the currently popular intellectual project to make people happier and improve society through ‘scientific’ understanding—and manipulation—of human beings … An eye-opening, head-spinning, and mind-expanding book.”
—Ha-Joon Chang, University of Cambridge, author of 23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism
“Davies has added a valuable critique, and a fantastic read, to the current literature on happiness.”
—Jared Smith, Marx & Philosophy Review of Books
About the Author
William Davies is the author of The Limits of Neoliberalism. His writing has appeared in New Left Review, Prospect, the Financial Times, and Open Democracy. His website www.potlatch.co.uk was featured in the New York Times. He teaches at Goldsmiths, London.
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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.
It has come to the point where capitalism itself is under review: can measures of happiness replace market pricing as the main measure of the economy? Davies cites the Davos conference, where the who’s who of capitalism now actively pursues this approach.
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.
Mr. Davies believes that Jeremy Bentham’s conceptualization of money as a proximate measure of happiness set the stage for psychology and capitalism. The subsequent rise of consumerism has eviscerated the political subject: labor is endured merely to gain the money necessary for purchasing happiness. Mr. Davies explains that a predatory yet increasingly sophisticated marketing industry has become maniacally focused on the consumer as an object of surveillance, manipulation and profit.
Mr. Davies contends that decades of Thatcher-style individualism has produced several generations of insecure workers who have internalized their precarious, impoverished circumstances. The pharmaceutical industry has gained enormously as the powerless seek relief from their depression through medication. An important takeaway from the author's lesson is that competitiveness and the management of happiness go hand in hand.
Mr. Davies discusses the exploitation of the individual’s social capital for marketing purposes, which he believes has steadily eroded personal friendships and altruism. Problematically, the enormous quantity of data captured by government and industry have allowed the powerful to manipulate individuals with precision; while few of us are capable of fully understanding the invidious forces that feed upon us. Mr. Davies believes people can fight back only when it is admitted that unhappiness is the product of a coercive capitalist culture that has succeeded in beating down the working class. In fact, the author argues that the relative happiness of empowered workers in employee-owned companies suggests that economic and political rights are keys to achieving real happiness.
I highly recommend this excellent book to everyone.
totally hooked from beginning to end. A real intellectual tour de force.
I had per-ordered the book, and I really wanted to like it more than I did. Truth be told, it was little dry.
I think my issue was that I kept comparing it to Barbara Ehrenreich's "Bright Sided". That text is just told with more verve and it is more personalized to her her own life. Davies keeps the discourse mostly abstract so it covers the subject well, but doesn't have the story-teller's verve like Ehrenreich delivers. So if you haven't read that book, or have and are able to compartmentalize better than I can, you should like this book.