Happiness: a societal 'imperative'?

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


In recent decades, happiness and wellbeing have become the focus of a new preoccupation in modern western societies. Academics and policymakers have become increasingly concerned with measuring, monitoring, and sometimes maximising the happiness levels of individuals and societies across the globe, and the general public have also begun to embrace the opportunities and products presented to them by the media and advertising industries, which promise to guide them in the direction of wellness and fulfilment. This chapter examines this preoccupation in a sociological way – and critically examines the ways in which happiness and wellbeing have become part of a societal ‘imperative’ to actively seek and achieve wellness. It explores how we are encouraged to ‘do’ happiness, and understand it as a property and responsibility of the individual, rather than something that is shaped by or an outcome of societal factors. It also examines its increasing traction in society more broadly, and considers the idea that happiness has become an ‘industry’, inextricably bound up with capitalism. Questions are also raised about whether such an imperative is as widespread as some of the academic literature seems to suggest, and the idea that it has become part of American culture in a way that it is not in Europe is briefly explored. It finishes by reflecting upon the benefits to society that this promotion of happiness and wellbeing offers. Whilst, by definition, being happy is a positive experience, its constant pursuit could be said to divert attention away from the social injustices in which unhappiness is often bound up; and a more balanced ‘happy realism’ that recognises the injustices of society that need redressing whilst simultaneously enjoying happiness as and when it arises may be a preferable alternative.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCritical Happiness Studies
EditorsNicholas Hill, Svend Brinkmann, Anders Petersen
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9780203730119
ISBN (Print)9781138304437
Publication statusPublished - 5 Dec 2019


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