• The ‘possibility’ of happiness: going beyond the discreet charm of happiness.

      Pratesi, Alessandro; University of Chester (2015-08)
      Happiness is not a new subject of philosophical, anthropological and sociological inquiry; however, a growing body of interdisciplinary literature has been published on the so-called science and economics of happiness, especially in the last ten years. Up to the point that some scholars have described such phenomenon in terms of ‘happiness turn’ or, more critically, in terms of ‘happiness industry’: a growing literature provides instruction on how to be happy, drawing on a variety of disciplines, including economics, sociology, psychology, history and social policy, and happiness is both produced and consumed through such literature as a form of emotional, cultural and social capital. Whilst research on happiness has stimulated some critical reflection on potentially deceptive assumptions on happiness, it still tends to locate happiness in certain places, commonly described as the ‘primary happiness indicators’, and to be trapped, as a result, into conventional, dominant and somehow prescriptive definitions of happiness. The prescriptive power of happiness as the arguable object of human desire manifests itself in describing not only what we allegedly aim for but also what we should aim for. Moreover, there are significant terminological issues, ambivalences and grey areas implicit in the contemporary uses of the words ‘happiness’ and ‘happy’. Even assuming that happiness may be associated with ‘feeling good’, can we assume that unhappiness automatically involves ‘feeling bad’ and not rather ‘feeling good in a different way’ or simply wishing things were different? Based on Sarah Ahmed’s critique of the intrinsic conservative power of happiness and her proposal of ‘rethinking happiness as possibility’ (Ahmed, 2010), which involves giving voice to silenced subjects and introducing issues of difference and inequality into current debates about happiness, my contribution aims to open up a discussion on how more inclusive, reliable and situated definitions of happiness can be attained in contemporary societies. In other words, it aims to discuss the potential contribution of those ‘unequally entitled social actors’ who have been conventionally banished from the dominant discourse on happiness—such as feminists, sexual and ethnic minorities—and their capacity to produce alternative and unconventional forms of contextual and situational happiness which may be able to intersect and overcome traditional and misleading dichotomies. Using examples from my previous research on family care, my study intends to analyse the ‘possibility’ of happiness by situating it in empirical, phenomenological contexts and going beyond its categorical, ideological and dogmatic definitions.