William Davies (2015) speaks of a happiness industry

Th title of the book is: The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being (2015).

I find the study of interest for several reasons.

First, I am interested in the fact that, from a publishing perspective, the book seeks to address a niche market – which, roughly speaking, is the market for books that provide a contrarian view about any topic that is of wide interest. Some such books have value. Some do not have much in the way of value. I would describe The Happiness Industry (2015) as having some value.

It has value, I believe, because it addresses the topic of happiness on the basis of evidence-based research and the historic record, as contrasted to engaging in flights of fancy driven by the pursuit of truthiness.

Secondly, the book addresses many subjects of interest; the entry for the book at the Toronto Public Library lists it under the following subjects:

  • Capitalism–Social aspects.
  • Economics–Psychological aspects.
  • Happiness–Social aspects.
  • Marketing–Social aspects.
  • Neoliberalism–Social aspects.
  • Social psychology.
  • Well-being–Economic aspects.
  • Well-being–Political aspects.
  • Well-being–Social aspects–Great Britain.
  • Well-being–Social aspects.

Can neoliberalism be turned into a useful analytic tool?

A topic that has been of particular interest for me, for some years, concerns the question of whether or not the concept of neoliberalism can be turned into a useful analytic tool. I look forward to learning whether that will happen. In the meantime, I find it of interest to read the analysis of neoliberalism, as a concept, that is put forward in The Happiness Industry (2015).

Neuroscience in service of neoliberalism

Neuroscience can readily be applied to the advancement of neoliberal concepts, it has been argued, as I have outlined in a previous post: Brain Culture (2011): The metaphor of the brain as frontier.  In that context, I enjoyed reading the views that William Davies advances, with regard to the uses of neuroscience, in the marketplace of ideas.

University of Chicago

Among other things, The Happiness Industry (2015)  also describes the University of Chicago in terms of its environmental characteristics, both in terms of its location in a particular city, and in terms of its distance, during the early years of the consolidation of the concept that became branded as neoliberalism, from other concentrations of academic learning, such as MIT in Boston.

I have a particular interest, by way of my own interests, which may not be the same as yours, in Chicago because it is where Erving Goffman began his academic career in 1945.

Blurb for The Happiness Industry (2015)

“In winter 2014, a Tibetan monk lectured the world leaders gathered at Davos on the importance of Happiness. The recent DSM-5, the manual of all diagnosable mental illnesses, for the first time included shyness and grief as treatable diseases. Happiness has become the biggest idea of our age, a new religion dedicated to well-being. In this brilliant dissection of our times, political economist William Davies shows how this philosophy, first pronounced by Jeremy Bentham in the 1780s, has dominated the political debates that have delivered neoliberalism. From a history of business strategies of how to get the best out of employees, to the increased level of surveillance measuring every aspect of our lives; from why experts prefer to measure the chemical in the brain than ask you how you are feeling, to why Freakonomics tells us less about the way people behave than expected, The Happiness Industry is an essential guide to the marketization of modern life. Davies shows that the science of happiness is less a science than an extension of hyper-capitalism.”

[End of text]


The book doesn’t serve as a complete answer to everything. However, the discussion as it relates to the branding of Buddhism is of interest.

I’ve addressed the latter topic at a previous post entitled: The relationship between Buddhism and violence is a topic of interest.

The author’s discussion of mindfulness has a flippant quality to it, which I enjoy. No point in taking such things too seriously.

Having embarked upon a project as a beginner practitioner of mindfulness, however, after taking a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course over a decade ago, I would say that the book’s characterizations of mindfulness – and, indeed of the work of the Tibetan monk Matthieu Ricard – are slightly on the superficial side.

That being said, what is on the surface is of interest, and the arguments that William Davies advances warrant close consideration.

Blurb (from the book) for William Davies

“William Davies is a Sociologist and Political Economist . His writing has appeared in New Left Review, Prospect, the Financial Times, Political Quarterly, and the Daily Beast. He is an Associate Editor at Renewal and openDemocracy. His website, www.potlatch.org, was featured in the New York Times ‘Idea of the Day’ series. He currently teaches at Goldsmiths, London. Twitter: @davies_will.”

[End of text]

Matthieu Ricard

Matthieu Ricard is the author of Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World (2015).

A blurb for the book, at the Toronto Public Library website, notes:

“The author of the international bestseller Happiness [2006] makes a passionate case for altruism – and why we need it now more than ever.

“In Happiness, Matthieu Ricard demonstrated that true happiness is not tied to fleeting moments or sensations, but is an enduring state of soul rooted in mindfulness and compassion for others. Now he turns his lens from the personal to the global, with a rousing argument that altruism – genuine concern for the well-being of others – could be the saving grace of the 21st century. It is, he believes, the vital thread that can answer the main challenges of our time: the economy in the short term, life satisfaction in the mid-term, and environment in the long term. Ricard’s message has been taken up by major economists and thinkers, including Dennis Snower, Amartya Sen, Joseph Stiglitz, and George Soros.

“Matthieu Ricard makes a robust and passionate case for cultivating altruistic love and compassion as the best means for simultaneously benefitting ourselves and our society. It’s a fresh outlook on an ardent struggle – and one that just might make the world a better place.”

[End of text]

Canada’s political economy in  the neoliberal era

Neoliberalism in its role as an analytical tool, of sorts, is addressed in:

Transforming Provincial Politics: The Political Economy of Canada’s Provinces and Territories in the Neoliberal Era (2015)

The blurb reads:

“Over the past thirty-five years, Canada’s provinces and territories have undergone significant political changes. Abandoning mid-century Keynesian policies, governments of all political persuasions have turned to deregulation, tax reduction, and government downsizing as policy solutions for a wide range of social and economic issues. Transforming Provincial Politics is the first province-by-province analysis of politics and political economy in more than a decade, and the first to directly examine the turn to neoliberal policies at the provincial and territorial level.

“Featuring chapters written by experts in the politics of each province and territory, Transforming Provincial Politics examines how neoliberal policies have affected politics in each jurisdiction. A comprehensive and accessible analysis of the issues involved, this collection will be welcomed by scholars, instructors, and anyone interested in the state of provincial politics today.”

[End of text]

The Upside of Your Dark Side (2014)

Some books that address themes related to The Happiness Industry (2015) include:

The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness (2006)

The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self – Not Just Jour “Good” Self – Drives Success and Fulfillment (2014)

With regard to the two above-noted books, a CBC The Current article (from which I learned of the books) is entitled: “Success By Design: Research shows Jerks get the corner office.”


A Dec. 9, 2015 CBC article is entitled: “The tyranny of Fitbit goals can create artificial happiness.”


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