A few days ago, I posted some thoughts about our current happiness obsession. Happiness is big business nowadays, and all sorts of professors and policy types are getting in on the act. They’re telling us that happiness is the basic measure of life quality, and the best yardstick for evaluating our actions; how happy we are tells us how we’re doing as citizens, workers, family members, and all the rest.
My post tried to explain why that’s a lousy way to look at life. Lots of good and important things don’t track well with happiness, and some of them actually make us unhappy. If happiness is really so important, we should probably get started burning all the copies of King Lear; House of Mirth and Jude the Obscure may have to go too. In the old days, reading books like those was a sign you were growing up. Now it shows you’re not getting with the program.
So I shouldn’t have been surprised that yesterday, right on cue, there’s my college alumni magazine in the mail, with “Happiness Is…” on the cover, and inside an eight-page spread about the current state of happiness thinking. One of the headlines talks up “the happiness of a liberal arts education,” though to be fair two of the commenters say there’s no guarantee that it will have that effect. Even these commenters aren’t willing to say anything good about actual unhappiness.
Once an idea reaches the college alumni magazine level, it’s pretty clear something big’s going on.