As much as I love Pharrell's Happy song, I am a bit troubled by the constant focus on 'finding happiness,' that I see everywhere my eye turns lately. I realize that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is inscribed into the American psyche in a way that is beyond my Englishness to grasp, but this fixation on being happy, well, it's a bit over the top. Don't get me wrong, I like being happy, and, as someone who wrestles with depression, it's a rare and prized commodity for me, but it's precisley that idea that is capturing my attention of late.I am especially troubled by the linking of happiness to particular consumer products and actions. Happiness like many other things in life is constantly being commodified and linked to consumer capitalism in ways that undermine it's truer value.
I think happiness is rarer and a bit more elusive than we might imagine and not as readily attainable as we assume and I must admit that I am not sure happiness is as much of an entitlement as we would have ourselves believe it is.
Perhaps I should say that I think there are a couple of different kinds of happinesses to be experienced. One is the commodified version where happiness is linked to the fulfillment of one's desires, and often linked to some consumer practice or artifact. The other form of happiness is harder to come by, it involves the embrace of our full humanness, our brokenness, and if you like, a rejection of the 'pursuit of happiness' in favour of the pursuit of humanity, which in turn might just offer up a heavy dose of a different kind of happiness. I might also say that I find the commodification of the sacred as the most virulent form of happiness propaganda, the selling of religion as a pathway to happiess and fulfillment of desire is problematic for me, I'm not sure god exists to make us happy (not sure god exists, but another time for that one).
There is a great article on the visualculture blog about Coca-Cola, migrant workers and happiness-where of course Coca-Cola is the salvific bringer of happiness and blessing. It's a great examination of how advertising works, and how easily we can link a product to prized moral and ethical values. Definitely worth a look.