16 May 2006

Sucker Punched by Happy-Happy-Happiness

People just are not happy like they should be. Bad government policies may be to blame. In fact, you can be sure of it. If only the right government policies were enacted, everyone would be happy. What government policies, you ask? Why, happiness policies, naturally.

In the UK, the economist Richard Layard, New Labour's very own happiness guru, has succeeded in getting hard-nosed political operators to back his campaign. His recent call for the Government to train 10,000 more therapists to help us become happy, resonates with politicians who are desperately short of ideas. Back in the 1940s and '50s, the big idea was the Welfare State. Today it is the Happy State. Stalin, who called himself the "constructor of happiness" would approve. So would the Controller in Huxley's Brave New World, who believed that making people happy was the precondition for stable government.

Policies that are designed to make us happy have little to do with a genuine emotional response to our experience. They attempt to persuade the public to think positively and adopt forms of behaviour deemed appropriate by enlightened "experts". Like Happy Meals, happiness has been turned into an easily digestible formula that can be taught by teachers, learned by the masses and managed by policy makers.

....Privately, many New Labour supporters hope that happiness is the Big Idea that has eluded them since the decline in appeal of the Welfare State. And where New Labour treads, can David Cameron be very far behind? Mr Cameron has declared that education is "one of the keys to happiness" and that "happiness" is one of the "central goals of government". Many educators agree. Having concluded that it is easier to help children feel good than to teach them maths, reading and science, they have embraced the cause of emotional education.

The ascendancy of therapeutic education is not confined to the state sector. Anthony Seldon, the headmaster of Wellington College, hopes to turn his school into a very happy place. He has teamed up with the Orwellian sounding "Well-being Institute" of Cambridge University to produce happy children. He writes that producing "happy young adults is my highest priority as head". Excellence and high achievement? Umm. Seldon castigates "driven people" who are "missing the point of life".

Of course, no one wants to miss the point of life. And the platitude that money does not make you happy contains more than a grain of truth. However, what the happiness lobbyists are actually saying is not that we should go forth and discover the meaning of life, merely that we should be content with what's on offer. They claim that concern with prosperity and economic growth diminishes the quality of our emotional life and makes us unhappy. They argue that if we were more modest in our aspirations and lowered our expectations, we would be far happier people.

"We should be thinking not what is good for putting money in people's pockets but what is good for putting joy in people's hearts," noted Mr Cameron recently. The Conservative leader, like other advocates of this Big Idea, tends to counterpose happiness with economic prosperity. What they all argue is that concern with prosperity and economic growth causes unhappiness. The project of linking unhappiness with economic development has as its target human ambition. High expectation, hard work, aspiration for material possessions and discontent are increasingly represented as human failings in today's therapy culture. Cultivating an electorate with low expectations appeals to officials who have very little to say or offer.

.....Today's turn towards the management of people's internal life is motivated by moral disorientation and political exhaustion. Unimaginative politicians who are unable to decide what needs to be done - or implement the appropriate policies - feel more comfortable with instructing the public how it should feel.

Advocates of the happiness crusade frequently contend that their campaign will help create more caring, altruistic and trustful communities. However, the emphasis on individual feelings distracts people from the life of their communities. Public policies enacted through the intervention of thousands of therapists are likely to turn the public citizen into a helpless patient. Whatever the problems associated with the pursuit of individual ambition, they pale into insignificance when compared with the moral disorientation caused by the politicisation of happiness.

More at the source.

I had to read the article twice to see if I was missing a punchline someplace. Unfortunately, no. The sad thing is how well this government drive to induce happiness in citizens meshes with policies in government education--such as teaching self-esteem in lieu of preparing students for the real world. It is too easy to anticipate entire nations of happy dunces, pushovers for any group of thugs wanting to take over governing powers--as long as they keep everyone happy. "A gram is better than a damn," as the happy happy people say.

Something that would make me very happy. Knocking government officials who dream up such ideas on their asses. Then kicking them. Oh yes. Now that would make me happy.


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