Smile or dieby Lynne Segal / December 12, 2017 / Leave a comment
Can we measure happiness? Since David Cameron lauded “General Well-Being” (GWB), over GDP, the official view has been yes. In November, the Office for National Statistics reported that we are generally slightly happier since the Brexit result—at least in England. There’s a surprise!
I say that as most of those I encounter on social media and elsewhere could hardly express greater misery over Brexit; they may admittedly not be the perfect cross-section. But their gloom echoes the miseries assailing the wider population that I encounter in daily news coverage. One figure from another government-funded project, states that one in four girls suffer from clinical depression by the age of 14, another survey that half of all 11-18-year-old girls experience online bullying. Suicides among men continue to rise—closely correlated with their economic exposure. Other reports tell me that fear of the future is rendering the UK economy stagnant; while MI5 warns us that Britain faces its most severe terrorist threat. Alongside this daily diet of gloom, I note that dystopic fantasies dominate the popular imagination, never expectations of a better world. Blade Runner, The Hunger Games, The Handmaid’s Tale draw in the crowds, by depicting future disaster.
Happiness, it would seem, is measured and fed back to us despite, or is it because of, the misery we know to surround us. More-over, there are reasons to suspect that the current stress on happiness can itself promote new forms of social anxiety and control. Despite the tight correlation existing between escalating rates of depression and the social disorders of the present—poverty, housing and work insecurity—we have seen a further pathologising of misery, with each of us held personally responsible for furthering our own well-being. Smile or Die is how some have described that pressure to show a cheerful face; start frowning and you may well lose your job, especially in the burgeoning and insecure service sector.
To dig even deeper into the debate, listen to the latest episode of our monthly podcast, “Headspace,” featuring Lynne Segal
So what really is being measured, and why? Self-evidently, the answer to “how happy are you?” is in part a matter of cultural conditioning. In France—unlike “have a nice day” America—jobs are well regulated for those who have…