Apparently a ‘turn to happiness’ – or perhaps a near-obsession with happiness – is happening across government, science, therapy and popular culture.
The general idea is that: the purpose of life is to be happy, we all want to be happy, and that to be happy, be need to do certain things. Furthermore, we have a right to be happy, and a moral obligation or duty to be happy, for ourselves and others. As one psychiatrist remarks, “Happy people seem to wish to force their condition on their unhappy companions and relatives” (Bentall, 1991, p. 94). If we fail to find happiness, we have failed in life.
This idea is historically recent. We have lost the connection with the Middle English word ‘happ’ which means chance, luck or fortune. The idea that happiness is what happens to us, and is beyond our control, goes against the grain of contemporary understanding.
This ‘turn to happiness’ has taken place across at least three domains.