The notion of happiness has been a frequent subject of recent governmental proclamations, signaling a departure from the moralizing discourses of guilt, blame, and debt surrounding the crisis of the past decade.
The concept of happiness has attracted vast interest in the fields of psychology, economics, and self-help literature in the past decade. Faced with the consequences of the global financial crisis, many governments were looking for ways to justify the massive bailout packages they were putting together, without having to radically challenge the system that made the bailout packages necessary in the first place. The science of happiness works to this end, in that it allows for a reading of the reasons of the crisis as stemming from individual behaviours, rather than systemic failures, which can be corrected with ‘nudges’ — tricks to alter our behaviours to pursue more active and resilient lifestyles. Happiness – and its virtues of comfort, joy, pleasure, or hope – is instrumentalized for political and economic ends.
Happiness overlaps with modernization, in that any form of critique against it is thwarted of as miserabilism by those who have always complained, will continue to do so, and cannot be happy.
As the promise of the capitalist imaginary (the ability to compete for middle-class belonging and relative economic security, by getting a good education and working hard) has effectively collapsed for the majority of people living in Greece, its legitimacy is under threat. Capitalism, it appears, now operates without the liberal values of ‘fairness’ and ‘opportunity’ that once justified capitalism’s competition and inequality.
It remains to be seen whether and how the emerging crises, such as the war in Ukraine, or climate breakdown, will impact the configuration and proliferation of the political imaginary of happiness in Greece.
* Working paper by
Dimitris Soudias* & Philipp Katsinas**
* Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics, Marilena Laskaridis Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Amsterdam, and member in the theme group ‘The Politics of (De)familiarization: The Common and the Strange in Contemporary Europe’ at the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Study (NIAS). His research is informed by economic sociology, and cultural economy approaches to the study of such issues as creativity, happiness, entrepreneurship, uncertainty, and the social economy.
** Research Officer at the London School of Economics. His research broadly focuses on the transformations of housing systems, including the social and spatial impacts of the increasing role of finance and tourism on urban economies. Philipp has held teaching roles at King’s College London, Birkbeck, University of London, and Queen Mary, University of London. He is part of the City Collective for the journal City.