Hardly any mantra in capitalist societies is as little questioned as that of happiness. And if you are not happy, it seems to be your own fault. Have you invested in yourself today? Were you mindful Have you visualized your goals? Take a deep breath? Exhaled even longer? Perhaps you’ve heard of resilience before. Of personal growth. Of self-efficacy. But what is that exactly? Where is your happy place? How do you manifest new beliefs? Let’s take a look at it together. Just click on the link. Get the free checklist. This is the game changer. Here comes the mood booster. A learning on the horizon. Now it’s gonna be cool! So new year, new luck, new happiness. The Mindset Engineers are currently in top form again, exploiting their full potential, achieving the best version of themselves, in order to whip us happy hamster wheel people into the mental #Newstart 2022. New milestones can be reached on the way to the inner cathedral when believing in oneself. New resolutions have to be made in order to optimize your own optimism, to work hard for a new ease and to integrate happiness organically into the home office breaks. Because it is sorely needed. According to the German Post Happiness Map “Deutsche Post Glücksatlas 2021”, happiness in Germany is currently only 6.58.
The happiness cartography of Deutsche Post AG is just one example of the happiness obsession in the western world, the scientification of vibes and a happiness affirmation for society as a whole, which comes across like an annoying YouTube advertisement in a continuous loop. Millions of coaches, positive psychologists, meditation gurus and mindfulness trainers: with their soft voices, their relaxed faces and stretched mindsets, scream at us to finally take care of our happiness, to put it into our own hands take to use the tools – because one thing is very clear to all of them: happiness can be learned, happiness is a muscle, happiness is ultimately nothing more than a pretty cool attitude. Hardly any mantra in capitalist societies is so omnipresent, so loud and yet so little questioned as that of happiness.
There is hardly a company that does not boost its managers with training courses on personal development, resilience, i.e. resistance, and anti-stress methods. Global corporations have long since installed their own Chief Happiness Officer to manage internal happiness. The self-employed and freelance workers are motivated by an army of online coaches and self-help advice literature to believe in themselves, to stick with it, to try again and again and again and on and on. Defeat is the real victory, and problems are just thorny opportunities. Crisis a chance. It is not only the uncomfortable amalgamation of psychology, business vocabulary, motivational rhetoric and the esotericism of revelation that gives rise to skepticism. Positive psychology is empirically controversial, its assumptions have been called into question in many cases, and methodological deficiencies have been demonstrated in study designs. This text is not about the empirical evaluation of happiness research, but about another aspect that is often misunderstood when it comes to the apparently so apolitical, so fundamentally good goal of happiness.
The sociologist Eva Illouz and the psychology professor Edgar Cabanas become a party-crasher at the great dopamine orgy in their book “Das Glücksdiktat”/ The Happiness Dictatorship”, published in 2019. Their finding: happiness, as it is understood in happiness research and positive psychology, is a neoliberal ideology. Sounds exciting? Then stay tuned & read on! It should be anticipated that this is not about exposing every method, every technique of positive psychology as a placebo. The goal of mastering the challenges of everyday life in a happier way is certainly not a reprehensible one. And the assumption that skills such as resilience, optimism and being able to gain a positive side from small and large crises in life are important, should not be disputed here. Rather, it is about the generalizations, the claim to an objectification of happiness and the ideological exaggerations that are propagated by positive psychologists and related happiness detectives . In their happiness analysis, Illouz and Cabanas trace in detail how positive psychology has formed surprising alliances over the past 20 years. From ultra-religious supporters like the John Templeton Foundation to global corporations like Coca-Cola to conservative politicians like Nicolas Sarkozy and James Cameron, the new trend quickly found influential allies, theirs co-financed institutional development and gave it its weight. The different actors unite, so the authors distill it, their interest in the dissemination and scientification of neoliberal beliefs. Positive psychology with its immanent, never-ending search for the good life lures with the seduction of ultimate self-control, appeals, so to speak, to happiness-related personal responsibility. Because happiness, as their followers chant is coming from the inside, does not depend on external circumstances, but on a mindset that can be trained. You can do it no matter how tough it is! The individual fates of people who were still able to lead a happy life despite the most adverse circumstances are used by coaches as effective Powerpoint presentations to appeal to the power of their own strength.
The downside is clear. It usually remains unspoken, but through the curtain of the constant smile, the mindful self-love affirmation and powerful calendar motivation, the icy threat always is: If you fail to find your happiness, it is your own fault. Happiness is always possible, no excuses. Positive psychology helped to pack these ideologically saturated, partly social Darwinist assumptions into supposedly scientifically sound knowledge, numbers, facts, rankings and colorful bar charts. Now that happiness is supposedly measurable and comparable, it serves corporations and neoliberal politics as a decision variable. Instead of economic and social factors, reference can now be made to the level of happiness. Because many of the rankings that want to show us where happiness is at home suggest: In countries in the global south, people are not necessarily more unhappy than in countries in the north. The propagated self-empowerment of one’s own happiness leads to a rigorous defense of the status quo, a denial of social injustices and a totalitarian obligation of the individual. Such an ideology encourages the gorillas rider to use a few stress-relieving breathing techniques rather than one of fighting for better working conditions. Employees should rather attend resilience seminars instead of complaining about the 60-hour week. And when the official happiness minister of the United Arab Emirates announces: „Happiness is very important to us“, you would like to add: Yes, for example, if you want to get a divorce as an Emirati woman. Good luck!
And the „Deutsche Post Glücksatlas“? What should a happiness level of 6.58 tell me? Isn’t happiness a lot more personal? Something that every person defines differently depending on society, environment and values? Is a 7 on my happiness scale really the same as a 7 on Christian Lindner’s happiness scale? At the risk of this drifting into the poetry of a social work student with a flat cap: Perhaps we would prefer to use the year 2022 to wrest our own well-being from the clutches of the capitalist happiness technocrats, perhaps even contaminated ones To leave the term completely behind us in order to instead optimize the social and socio-political conditions, to believe less in ourselves and more in the community. Maybe that would be the game changer. And to close completely as a flourish wall tattoo: Wouldn’t a better world ultimately be one in which one wouldn’t even need a term like resilience?
Part of the happiness and positive psychology is the mindfulness movement. How neoliberal capitalism stabilizes through the integration of supposedly subversive trends can currently be observed on the basis of the booming mindfulness market. The concept of mindfulness not only promises an at least temporary exit from the constraints of everyday life, but also claims to have resistant potential. Mindfulness, as the emeritus professor of medicine Jon Kabat-Zinn describes in his bestseller “Finding Peace in Everyday Life”, is the ability “to be attentive in a certain way: consciously, in the present moment and without judging. This kind of attention increases awareness and promotes clarity as well as the ability to accept the reality of the present moment. «Mindfulness offers appear to be a suitable means of countering the demands of the attention economy.
Ronald E. Purser mocked the triumphant advance of the mindfulness movement as a pseudo-Buddhist feel-good mania of western societies in his book »McMindfulness. How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality „. He takes the term »McMindfulness« from the psychotherapist Miles Neale, who uses it to criticize the consumer-oriented marketing of mindfulness. Similar to the globally active franchise company, to which the name alludes, equips new restaurants with their own label, the Center for Mindfulness, founded by Kabat-Zinn and now at the University of Massachusetts, provides framework conditions and curricula according to which national associations certify to train mindfulness trainers.
Purser criticizes that mindfulness, detached from its religious and ethical contexts in Buddhism and Taoism, is offered as a commodity for the purpose of self-optimization. He sees this as the continuation of a development that Jeremy Carrette and Richard King already pointed out in 2004 in their book „Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion“. In it, the two religious scholars describe how elements of the Asian philosophies, which are actually oriented towards comprehensive social and cosmic issues, are assimilated by neo-liberal concepts that understand people primarily as consumers and society primarily as a market. Purser then formulates that mindfulness practices without an ethical framework are like pure »concentration training«, which in the best case works like an aspirin tablet against headaches.
In the long term, however, and this is what matters to the author, no improvement is to be expected, since mindfulness-based practices almost by definition ignore the larger social and political origins of states of stress and exhaustion. According to Purser, these problems, which actually arose in the social environment, are primarily declared to be a problem of the mind or fantasies of the past and future, from which the individual should distance himself through his own effort. The mindfulness ideas start with a real need for change, but persist in the neoliberal mantra of personal responsibility and self-discipline. This corresponds to the frequently cited idea that the ability to be mindful can be trained like a muscle. In the long term, there is a threat of a depoliticization and pathologization of stress phenomena according to the motto: If you are not yet relaxed, you have not yet tried it properl
As pointed and witty as Purser’s assessment reads, his criticism is not fundamentally fundamental. No wonder: As a professor of management at San Francisco State University and an „ordained Zen teacher in the Korean line of the Buddhist Taego Zen order“, he ultimately advocates a return to the ethical roots of mindfulness practices. In 2018 he and colleagues published the „Handbook of Ethical Foundations of Mindfulness“, which investigates the extent to which the Buddhist tradition in particular can be instructive for the application of mindfulness ideas in the fields of educational, economic and environmental policy. From an ideology-critical perspective, however, it is not clear why Buddhism in particular should represent a reference for emancipatory social criticism. In the West it has long been considered particularly peaceful and tolerant, but the two religious scholars Michael K. Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer, for example, show in their 2010 book »Buddhist Warfare« based on numerous historical examples that Buddhism also repeatedly justifies Violence and the enforcement of state rule served. In addition, the neoliberal appropriation of mindfulness criticized by Purser does not only take place „from outside“, but is directly linked to ideas that are inherent in the Buddhist tradition. Slavoj Žižek considers Buddhism to be completely unsuitable for formulating a criticism of neoliberalism because of ideas such as that of „not-self“ (Anatta) or that of karma. Rather, an alliance of both ways of thinking is emerging. In his 2014 book “What is an event?” He writes: “Although Buddhism presents itself as an antidote to the tearing tension of capitalist dynamics and allows us to find inner peace and serenity, it actually functions as the perfect ideological supplement of capitalism. (…) If Max Weber was alive today, he would undoubtedly write a supplementary volume on his Protestant ethics, which would then be entitled ›The Taoist Ethics and the Spirit of Global Capitalism‹. „. No wonder that in state capitalist China the Buddhist- Taoist mass sect Falungong gained such attraction in the 90s and had according to a report by the CCP about 100 million followers before she was forbidden and prohibited, because the CCP perceived it as a threat for its own rule.
However, happiness should be seen in a dialectical way. Of course it is important, which attitude and mindset an individual has. To claim that only society is responsible for all evils means that you just see yourself as a passive victim. But alone you only can´t achieve not very much. It always needs also other people to change the societal parameters and factors causing discomfort and unhappiness. Thereby collective organization will and therefore the capability for empathy and solidarity and team spirit in contrast to the attitude of a lonely egocentric wolf warrior is a precondition for any change, also for political change. Positive thinking as Mindfulness however are methods and ideologies to ignore political and societial problems and also not realizing that other people also have them and therefore it is a necessity to unite and fight with them. Don´t worry, be happy and positive thinking are just making people braindead. Mindfulness then often in reality means mindlessness.
With this thoughts about happiness we wish a Happy New Year 2022 a. C. or as new time calculation and calendar the year 2 after the birth of Covid. Hopefully we will soon return to the Christian calendar again according to the Latin saying:Ouod licet Jovi, non licet Covid. Novus Annus and hopefully not Novus Anus 2022!