What is a quotient of happiness

Happiness is a strange word. Who doesn't want to be happy? But there is something accidental and undeserved about happiness. In addition, many suspect that it is not a realistic goal to be happy as often or permanently as possible. Nevertheless, one comes across this term more and more often. Big companies have recently started employing a “Chief Happiness Officer”, and happiness researchers write tons of guidebooks. A whole branch of psychology wants to help us in the search for happiness, the so-called "positive psychology". The UN has created a “World Happiness Report” and determines the “happiness” of the people in each country every year. Togo recently rose and Venezuela fell, which is not surprising when you know the catastrophic conditions in that country. March 20th is the “International Day of Happiness” or “World Luck Day”.

The sociologist Eva Illouz and the psychologist Edgar Cabanas investigate in their new book what is behind the new happiness industry. They trace the history of “positive psychology”, which seeks to focus on positive traits instead of mental illnesses. These psychologists claim to have found a way to measure happiness precisely: the “positive quotient” is exactly 2.9013. It supposedly separates the mental "blossoming" from the "wilting away".

For Illouz and Cabanas this is just pseudoscience. According to the book authors, the "positive psychologists" do their clients a disservice. Not only are their calculations scientifically untenable. The whole theory of happiness works towards neoliberal ideology, criticize Illouz and Cabanas: The happiness rhetoric emphasizes individualism at the expense of all social contexts. The "positive psychologists" would pretend that society was just a collection of separate, autonomous beings. The important role of living conditions is ignored. The happiness discourse justifies that "Meritocratic insinuation of the self-made man: everyone gets what he deserves."

For Illouz and Cabanas, the discourse on happiness does more harm than good. It promotes "obsession with me", loneliness, dissatisfaction and depression. Those who fail to be happy feel that this is a personal failure. In companies, "positive psychology" creates a depoliticized, psychologized world of work. The happiness discourse spreads the false belief that everyone can have their own existence "Master at will"and be responsible for everything that happens to you. “Personal branding” techniques would turn employees into commodities. The forced pursuit of happiness could turn out to be one "Obsessive, disappointing experience" prove. The mathematical calculations are fundamentally wrong.

Eva Illouz and Edgar Cabanas explain that it is not correct to separate positive and negative feelings as strictly as the "positive psychologists" do: "Neither sociologically nor psychologically, it is possible to strictly separate positive and negative feelings." Life often consists of mixed feelings, and that is a good thing. Feelings like hope and happiness would not always lead to positive results. On the other hand, feelings such as anger, frustration and envy are important drivers for social improvement. They mention the women's movement as an example. The ideology of happiness undermines the socially critical thinking that is important for social progress. In any case, happiness is not the most important good in life. The happiness psychologists would have got one from it «Mighty instrument» that corporations and institutions can use to shape obedient employees and citizens.

For Illouz and Cabanas it is clear: "The meaning of our life is not happiness, but knowledge and justice."

Edgar Cabanas, Eva Illouz: «Das Glücksdiktat», Suhrkamp Verlag 2019

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