'Not Smiling but Frowning': Sociology and the 'Problem of Happiness'

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Mainstream British sociology has curiously neglected happiness studies despite growing interest in wellbeing in recent years. Sociologists often view happiness as a problematic, subjective phenomenon, linked to problems of modernity such as consumerism, alienation and anomie. This construction of ‘happiness as a problem’ has a long history from Marx and Durkheim to contemporary writers such as Ahmed and Furedi. Using qualitative interview data, I illustrate how lay accounts of happiness suggest it is experienced in far more ‘social’ ways than these traditional subjective constructions. We should therefore be wary of using crude representations of happiness as vehicles for our traditional depictions of modernity. Such ‘thin’ accounts of happiness have inhibited a serious sociological engagement with the things that really matter to ordinary people, such as our efforts to balance suffering and flourishing in our daily lives.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)422-437
Issue number3
Early online date1 Sept 2014
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2015


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