May 24, 2013
Happiness Consultants Won’t Stop a Depression
Posted on Jul 27, 2009
By Chris Hedges
The belief that by thinking about things, by visualizing them, by wanting them, we can make them happen is magical thinking. The purpose, structure and goals of the corporation can never be questioned. To question, to engage in criticism of the corporate collective, is to be obstructive and negative. We can always make more money, meet new quotas and advance our career if we have enough faith. This magical thinking is largely responsible for our economic collapse, since any Cassandra who saw it coming was dismissed as “negative.” This childish belief discredits legitimate concerns and anxieties. It exacerbates despair and passivity. It fosters a state of self-delusion. And it has perverted the way we think about the nation and ourselves.
Corporate employees, like everyone else, are gripped by personal dilemmas, anxieties and troubles. They are not permitted, however, to ask whether the problem is the corporate structure and the corporate state. If they are not happy, there is, they are told, something wrong with them. Real debate, real clashes of opinion, are, in the happy world of corporatism, forbidden. They are considered rude. The corporations enforce a relentless optimism that curtails honest appraisal of reality and preserves hierarchical forms of organization under the guise of “participation.” Corporate culture provides, as Christopher Lasch pointed out, a society dominated by corporate elites with an anti-elitist ideology.
Positive psychology, which claims to be able to engineer happiness and provides the psychological tools for enforcing corporate conformity, is to the corporate state what eugenics was to the Nazis. Positive psychology is a quack science that throws a smoke screen over corporate domination, abuse and greed. Those academics who preach it are awash in corporate grants. They are invited to corporate retreats to assure corporate employees that they can find happiness by sublimating their selves into corporate culture. They hold academic conferences. They publish a Journal of Happiness Studies and a World Database of Happiness. There are more than 100 courses on positive psychology available on college campuses. The University of Pennsylvania offers a master of applied positive psychology program chaired by Martin Seligman, considered the father of the discipline, and author of “Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment.” The School of Behavioral and Organizational Sciences at Claremont Graduate University in California offers doctorate and master’s concentrations on what it calls “the Science of Positive Psychology.” Degree programs are also available at the University of East London and in Milan and Mexico City.
Dr. Tal D. Ben-Shahar, who wrote “Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment,” taught hugely popular courses at Harvard University titled “Positive Psychology” and “The Psychology of Leadership.” He called himself, when he taught there, the “Harvard happiness professor.”
Positive psychology therapy instructs patients to write a letter of gratitude to someone who has been kind to them. Patients pen little essays called “You at your best” in which they are asked “to write about a time when they were at their best and then to reflect on personal strengths displayed in the story.” They are instructed to “review the story once every day for a week and to reflect on the strengths they had identified.” And the professionals argue that their research shows that many of their patients have “lastingly increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms.”
Ben-Shahar pumps out the catchy slogans and clichés that color all self-improvement schemes. ‘‘Learn to fail or fail to learn,” he says, and ‘‘not ‘it happened for the best,’ but ‘how can I make the best of what happened?’ ”
He argues that if a traumatic episode can result in post-traumatic stress disorder, it may be possible to create the opposite phenomenon with a single glorious, ecstatic experience. This could, he says, dramatically change a person’s life for the better.
Those who fail to exhibit positive attitudes, no matter the external reality, are seen as maladjusted and in need of assistance. Their attitudes need correction. Once we adopt an upbeat vision of reality, positive things will happen. This belief encourages us to flee from reality when reality does not elicit positive feelings. These specialists in “happiness” have formulated something they call the “Law of Attraction.” It argues that we attract those things in life, whether it is money, relationships or employment, which we focus on. Suddenly, abused and battered wives or children, the unemployed, the depressed and mentally ill, the illiterate, the lonely, those grieving for lost loved ones, those crushed by poverty, the terminally ill, those fighting with addictions, those suffering from trauma, those trapped in menial and poorly paid jobs, those whose homes are in foreclosure or who are filing for bankruptcy because they cannot pay their medical bills, are to blame for their negativity. The ideology justifies the cruelty of unfettered capitalism, shifting the blame from the power elite to those they oppress. And many of us have internalized this pernicious message, which in times of difficulty leads to personal despair, passivity and disillusionment.
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