Volunteering, mutual aid and lockdown has shifted our sense of ‘happiness’

Volunteering, mutual aid and lockdown has shifted our sense of ‘happiness’

via the Conversation by Emma Anderson

As lockdowns around the world ease or end, it’s clear that the coronavirus crisis has brought racial, gender and socio-economic inequalities into sharp focus. The Black Lives Matter protests suggest that a return to “business as usual” will be met with strong opposition. A YouGov poll for the RSA (Royal Society of Arts) conducted in April at the height of the lockdown found just 9% of UK citizens wanted life to go back to the way it was before.

People’s mental health has rightly been a concern throughout lockdown. But with widespread reports of a decline in our sense of collective wellbeing, perhaps it is our sense of “happiness” as experienced during a pandemic that is changing.

How we understand happiness – often thought of as “subjective wellbeing” in contemporary psychology and economics – has changed over time and varies between cultures. For example, before the Enlightenment, happiness under the Christian pastoral tradition was something to be experienced in the next life, to be ensured through prayer and subordinating oneself to God.

Two ways to see happiness

Two more recent versions of happiness put forward by American sociologist Sam Binkley are linked to systems of governance. He argues that after the second world war, the prevalent social or “welfarist” understanding of happiness posed that our mutual interdependence on each other and strong bonds within society led to wellbeing. This was tied to Keynesian economics and the roll-out of social citizenship rights in many western democracies at this time, which sought to re-balance the inequities of capitalism through re-distributive taxation, rights to housing, healthcare and a safety net for the unemployed.

However, welfare provision has been steadily eroded since the late 1970s by neoliberal governments on both sides of the Atlantic. A new individualist version of happiness has emerged, seen as something that can be augmented through adjusting attitudes and behaviours and strategically cultivating relationships. The recent interest in promoting and measuring citizens’ happiness in many Western countries marks an important shift from policies that advance structural means to ensure collective wellbeing, to policies that focus on the personal.

This political interest in happiness has been underpinned by the new academic discipline of positive psychology that emerged in the late 1990s, which puts forward a concept of happiness as something that can be expertly calculated, scientifically measured and improved. Recent research supports the idea that people now understand happiness as an inward-looking undertaking. When asked to think about their subjective wellbeing, participants focused on information about their feelings, jobs and relationships, while thoughts about contributing to the world were rare.

The idea that you can make yourself happier through conscious effort is undoubtedly appealing, but there is growing criticism of positive psychology. Considering happiness to be dependent on a person’s attitudes and interpretation of their circumstances, rather than the circumstances themselves, transforms major social problems such as injustice, marginalisation, debt, low-wage exploitation and rising cost of living into merely matters of personal self-care. This potential for victim-blaming is noted by essayist and activist Barbara Ehrenreich who writes about the widespread use of positive psychology rhetoric in the “positivity training” offered to employees being made redundant in US organisations…

… keep reading the full & original article HERE

#happiness #happy #positivepsychology #lockdown