Phi Beta Cons

Against Happiness: How Come?

Maureen Callahan explores the nation’s leading pop-psychology obsession, the happiness movement, noting that courses in happiness are taught at over 100 universities in the nation and that there are thousands of recent books on attaining happiness, including a bestseller, Stumbling on Happiness, by Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert. Proponents of happiness portray it as a “thing,” an “object to be owned,” and governments treat it like “currency,” says Callahan.
In defiance of this mania there now appears Against Happiness, an “unhappy” counter-argument by Eric G. Wilson, a professor at Wake Forest University. Wilson reasons

that the culture’s current obsession with eradicating sadness is not just misguided but destructive, that discontent helps dislodge and agitate greatness – be it in art, public policy or personal satisfaction. He indicts what he believes to be the narcissism of the movement: “If I reduce my teeming environment to a strategy for salvation or a plan for savings, then I perceive the landscape only through the windows of my own desire for perfect happiness, for total security and contentment. In other words, I see only what fits into the grids of my own mind, networks devoted solely to my personal comfort . . . I am attuned only to those parts that I can transform into material to boost my ego.” Wilson argues that happiness is not only most palpable and valuable when it alternates with sadness, but can’t truly exist without its opposite.

Take a break from what Wilson calls our pursuit of “manic bliss” and read this article.

Candace de Russy is a nationally recognized expert on education and cultural issues.

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