The latest Harper's has an interesting article about psychology and the happiness industry. When Freud visited the US in 1909, he came “to the land of unbridled optimism to inform its inhabitants that a fragile equipoise between repression and abandon was the best they could hope for,” writes psychologist Gary Greenburg in ‘The War on Unhappiness.’ A century after Freud's visit, Greenburg attends a psych conference at which Freud's pessimism is laughed out the door by a new breed of evidence-based happiness gurus who are contributing to a state-endorsed project of human flourishing, starting with trauma-resistant soldiers. Maybe it’s not as alarming as Greenburg makes it sound, but there is much to be wary of in the notion of happiness as a means, rather than an indicator, of flourishing. Not unlike the craze for laughter yoga, which attempts to harness the medicinal effects of laughter without recourse to jokes.
What's more encouraging is this article from the NY Times suggesting that happiness in African Americans has measurably improved with the gradual (if stunted) improvement in social equality and civil rights over the past five decades. Happiness flowing in this direction seems more plausible than the tautological ‘winners are winners’ philosophy of the state-supported gurus.