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Happiness Consultants Won’t Stop a Depression

Posted on Jul 27, 2009
AP / Mark Lennihan

By Chris Hedges

(Page 3)

This flight into the collective self-delusion of corporate ideology, especially as we undergo financial collapse and the pillaging of the U.S. Treasury by corporations, is no more helpful in solving our problems than alchemy. But there are university departments and reams of pseudo-scientific scholarship to give an academic patina to the fantasy of happiness and success through positive thinking. The message that we can have everything we want if we dig deep enough inside ourselves, if we truly believe we are exceptional, is pumped out daily over the airwaves in advertisements, through the plot and story lines of television programs and films, and bolstered by the sickeningly cheerful and upbeat banter of well-groomed television hosts. This is the twisted ideological lens through which we view the world. 

“From my two years at the company, positive psychology is a euphemism for spin,” Vasquez went on. “They try to spin their employees so much they can’t tell right from left, and in the process they forget they do the work of three people, have no health insurance, and three-quarters of their paycheck goes to rent.”

This ideology condemns all social critics, iconoclasts, dissidents and individualists for failing to seek fulfillment in the collective chant of the corporate herd. It strangles creativity and moral autonomy. It is about being molded and shaped into a compliant and repressed collective. It is not, at its core, about happiness. It is about conformity, a conformity that all totalitarian and authoritarian structures seek to impose on the crowd. Its unrealistic promise of happiness, in fact, probably produces more internal anxiety and feelings of inadequacy than genuine happiness. The nagging undercurrents of alienation, the constant pressure to exhibit a false enthusiasm and buoyancy, the loneliness of a work life in which one must always be about upbeat presentation, the awful feeling that being positive may not in fact work if one is laid off, are buried and suppressed.

There are no gross injustices, no abuses to question, no economic systems to challenge in the land of happy thoughts. In the land of happy thoughts, we are to blame if things go wrong. The corporate state, we are assured, is beneficent and good. It will make us happy and comfortable and prosperous even as it funnels billions of taxpayer dollars into its bank accounts. Mao and Stalin used the same language of harmony and strength through the collective, the same love of spectacles and slogans, the same coercive power of groups and state propaganda, to enslave and impoverish millions of their citizens. And, if we do not free ourselves from the grip of this ideology and the corporate vampires who disseminate it, this is what will happen to us.


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Chris Hedges is the author of the new book “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.” Chris Hebdon assisted with reporting this story.

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By Roberto, July 27, 2009 at 9:21 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Although Hedges is by far the best truthdig has to offer he can be off from time to time. This is one of those times. I do agree with his view of the coorporate ideology and their collective thinking, the company as your god and sole benefactor and those awful cult like company retreats where everything is so tongue in cheek and cynical. The only things that come out of those things is a waste of presentation paper and rolls of good tape and getting drunk and finally sleepin with that co-worker you’ve been trying to nail since you started the job or getting too drunk and sleepin with the whale of your dept -neither is a good thing. Usually the presenters and group leaders don’t even work for the company they are hired from another company and are professional cheerleaders who hold those degrees that Hedges mentioned.
But i totally agree with patrick jones that to marry “academic discipline of Positive Psychology directly to a delusional corporate ideology is probably irresponsible of the author.” How is it not obvious that you’ll do better at any thing if you have good thoughts about it and that a better outlook on life, even in the real bad times, is a better frame of mind to work through it. Come on Hedges, don’t diss hope say yes we can!

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By felicity, July 27, 2009 at 9:20 am Link to this comment

During the Reagan era, appropriately, I was required to attend a day-long seminar on what was basically how management can exploit workers and get away with it - in other words, how to get away with paying labor less so its cost cuts less into the profit margin. 

Eight hours listening to someone preaching the rightness and basic goodness of exploiting other human beings to their disadvantage left me, well, numb.

Much of Hedges’ post reminds me of the age-old belief that people who are rich are good people and god has rewarded them accordingly, while the poor are bad people and god has punished them by making them poor. The belief is no longer voiced, as it once was, but its perniciousness continues to not only infest the very rich but to justify all that they did to get rich and all they do to stay rich.

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By GW=MCHammered, July 27, 2009 at 9:06 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Happiness Consultants bed Corporatism or…
Borderline Narcissistic meets Histrionic Personality Disorder


A mnemonic that can be used to remember the criteria for histrionic personality disorder is PRAISE ME:

P - provocative (or seductive) behavior
R - relationships, considered more intimate than they are
A - attention, must be at center of
I - influenced easily
S - speech (style) - wants to impress, lacks detail
E - emotional lability, shallowness
M - make-up - physical appearance used to draw attention to self
E - exaggerated emotions - theatrical

The HPD is highly reactive. If there is another major disorder present, such as delusional disorder, then emotional intensity will create anger, rage, abuse and distance in relationships.


“Empire of Illusion, The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” is right, Mr. Hedges.

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By Rhuen Phreed, July 27, 2009 at 8:55 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you Chris,

I must admit, your ability to get to the crux of these systemic problems is quite amazing. And the unbridled passion to wake people up, well, great.

I do regret that many times I tend to cancel out the part of your work, that is so insightful, because many times I sense a kind of very sophisticated evangelical-izing, embedded throughout you work, more of the post reformation sort. But please consider, I am not prejudice, having done some time at seminary and various zen centers, questing for some approximation of the truth, perhaps, but rather, like you seem to be, I am concerned about the vulnerability of people to be brainwashed,, blackmailed so by threats against their livelihoods, threats to their, economic or social needs/standing, etc..

I am unable to avoid praising you for this article.
Yes, “no drama”, has become synonymous with “no freedom”. And this positive psychology culture stuff, is the most insidious and egregious means of subverting the natural inclination to question imbalance, to live through stages of true personal growth, so that the proper confidence in the citizenry is not suppressed and/or culled.

In Boston, people put in their ads, to seek out/acquire apartment roommates, “no drama please”. I will speak to just about anyone, and I find that many young people, get somewhat frightened when the conversation “deviates” from, “how is the weather”, or “what is your dog’s name”. I do not think they are aware they have come to believe that anything that is not of this “positive” stuff, well, that less than shinny thoughts will negatively effect their bottom line or social standing.

Its all become very subtle this “attitude genocide”, and yes, furthermore, the “social eugenics” that are being practiced on the neighborhood levels, fostered by, as you astutely pointed out, by the workplace environment,,, enforced by corresponding local policing tactics implemented by this new era of local political leaders morphing into chief financial officers.

The psychological/psychiatric professions have much to answer for, as they have merged their fortunes to that of corporate culture, and the doctrine of the positive creates the emphasis on “production”, at any cost, and away from “dysfunction” which of course now implies a negative means of achieving personal happiness satisfaction.

I am a writer by necessity. Do you notice that what you have been writing, and for instance, your new book, well, that there is now some opening for people to hear and understand. I will use this crevice in this decades old madness to start putting some stuff out, but in the meantime I do appreciate you have.

When I studied some economics, back in the day, well, it was pretty clear that systems like ours needed “depressions”, and the pain of admitting there was one, together with the hard would needed to emerge from one, well, this was a good thing, a necessary thing. Just as this “economic depression” has been thwarted, in the sense of being referenced and defined by “positive economics”, so to has the American psyche been thwarted from reacting appropriately to this disaster.

The U.S. citizenry’s ability to inquiry deeply, into the causes of their current insecurity & rage, has been suppressed by the emphasis on “positive based psychology” and “positive based sociology” that created the mindless drone workers of the last 20 years. (and lets not forget how the survival of the fittest delusion plays into this positive illusion, perhaps another time though)

Sure pain stinks, but the lack of options reeks. And this is what “positive economics” does, takes away options, limits reactions, and damages the endurance of a population to consider alternatives to the problems they encounter. 

I do think the time is ripe for a few to wake up from their “positive slumber”. Boy are they going to be negative about this realization?

Rhuen Phreed
11 Marlborough Street
Boston, Ma

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By Kay Johnson, July 27, 2009 at 8:52 am Link to this comment

Recently, I wrote to a friend of mine, via e-mail, a therapist/counselor, with a masters degree, and pointed out some issues I have with the business of psychology in the United States. Issue 1: Blurring the lines between reality and fantasy—what is, and isn’t possible.

I am disgusted that so many professionals tell their clients that “your life is up to you,” and “you can’t blame society.” “Put on a Happy Face” and always exhibit a “positive attitude.” I have actually heard some of these “positive-thinking” TV gurus, some of whom have a raft of credentials, actually tell people to tune out the news, etc. I went on to tell my friend that a therapist/counselor/psychologist might be more helpful to a client if he or she taught their clients to advocate for themselves. For instance, the client’s discretionary income might have just been eaten by added credit/debit card fees and escalated interest charges, or a variable interest rate payment on their mortgage. Few people actually know that the usury laws were dismantled during Jimmy Carter’s administration, and that congress is doing little to rein in the banks. Maybe, those clients should form a group and march, write letters or start a petition. Maybe, someone should tell them that it’s not all in their head. Policies passed and enacted by our elected officials do make a difference in our lives, and those facts should be considered during therapy.

Finally, I asked my friend if she thought that someone who knows nothing about the real job market could possibly be helpful to someone who is out of work. Without an understanding of the economy, can a counselor be helpful? Having a positive attitude is not enough if there are no jobs available in a particular field of expertise, regardless of your education level.

In addition, though, until I read Mr. Hedges’ article this morning, I hadn’t connected two other points of issue—1) “positive psychology” and 2) the business of teaching strengths, abstractly. My friend advertises “positive psychology” and focuses on “strengths.”

Barbara Ehrenreich wrote an excellent book on the subject—BAIT AND SWITCH, about professionals looking for work. As usual, Ms. Ehrenreich incorporates her own brand of humor into the book, as she points out the absolutely absurd “positive” advice given to the jobless professionals by employment counselors.   

When I lost my job a little over two years ago, one of my NYC friends scolded me as we walked together, telling me that the reason I hadn’t found a job was that I wasn’t “positive enough.” At that time, she was completely invested in “The Secret.” And, she was a believer. I’ll admit to a having a natural streak of cynicism—more than once, during my life, my sharp tongue has allowed me to cut through the crap, broken the tension, and allowed me to laugh at myself. This friend told me my humor was negative and that was my problem—possible employers were picking up on my negativity. Of course, I wasn’t trotting off to interviews and auditioning for a comedy show. I do have some idea about what to say and when to say it. Although I was stunned by her response to my situation, I did not go out and buy THE SECRET or any of the other positive-thinking books she recommended. 

A few months ago, I watched the BBC documentary, THE CENTURY OF THE SELF, which illuminates the blurring of the lines between the field of psychology and public relations. Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, understood the “mind of the crowd” and how to control the “dangerous forces lying beneath the surface.” That would be us—“we the people.”

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By chris, July 27, 2009 at 8:18 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Your article brought back memories.  I was employed by FEDEX, pre-Kinko’s, during the Reagan years.  The positive psychology you talk about permeated every aspect of employment there.  This was the era of “In Search of Excellence” when all good corporate functionaries were thinking “outside of the box” to better meet customer needs.  The Company deliberately understaffed our operation and had us working a lot of over time hours, many double shifts, moving incredible amounts of freight in facilities that had not been designed for the volume.  There were numerous accidents and injuries caused by the heavy workload and sleep deprivation.  As we drones labored we were treated to many mandatory meetings where we were made to “present” to other “team members” and bombarded with company videos and presentations loaded with the kind of nonsense that you detail in your piece.  The same happy smiley “up with people” burbling was accompanied by minuscule raises and horrendous cutbacks of our benefits.

And the cutesy gimmicks! For a while the management took to wearing lapel pins shaped like sunglasses.
Why?  Because as the Regional Manager enthusiastically shouted at one meeting

“The Future’s so Bright We Gotta Wear Shades!”

and then had us listen to the Timbuk3 song(which is actually really ironic) while he and the other bosses bobbed their heads in time to the music and smiled at us.

I left the company around the time they adopted:
“Don’t Worry Be Happy”

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By seekimgee, July 27, 2009 at 7:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Right on, Chris!  My company’s national sales conference is in two weeks where we have to endure an endless stream of this psycho-babble.  Even during our weekly meetings, our managers will tell us two conflicting things and expect us to believe both!

I commend you for continuing to speak out against the wars and for the poor and the disadvantaged. You are truly the voice of the people.

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By glider, July 27, 2009 at 7:41 am Link to this comment

Now now Chris this bad attitude of yours is not good for your career!

Seriously, a great article that reminds me of why I retired early, when these types turned a great job into a circus with this kind of crap.  I would like to see a bit of a timeline on when this infiltrated corporate culture.  I really noticed it strongly about 10-12 years ago.  Thanks for this piece!

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By howie bledsoe, July 27, 2009 at 7:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

great article! If I were your McManager I´d give you a gold star!

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By Jon, July 27, 2009 at 7:35 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What’s additionally tragic is how this ‘rah rah’ b.s. has become the norm for very underpaid low level employees without a true stake in the company they work for other than that small bi-weekly check, and used at these employment levels, it’s really intimidating.  Sales organizations, where huge bonuses and other rewards are possible, have used the ‘smile, be happy’ technique forever, but to see it used as described in this article is just wrong, because beneath it is no respect for the person, only the desire to propagandize to those who have no stake in the company.  The rise of the “HR” department is partly responsible for this—-a department most likely staffed with 20-somethings who’ve never worked in those basement jobs they are recruiting for,but who go to ‘team building’ seminars and who have budgets to bring in consultants such as mentioned in the article.  The immaturity level of the typical HR department is stunningly poor, and this too is very bad for employees; and the older employees I imagine are truly embarrassed by the lack of social awareness of their managers and HR people.  When will this stop?

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By m, July 27, 2009 at 7:31 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dibs on the espresso maker! Thanks Chris, maybe next time one in plain English for the working class?

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By patrick jones, July 27, 2009 at 7:31 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In this case, marrying the academic discipline of Positive Psychology directly to a delusional corporate ideology is probably irresponsible of the author.

If one were to open the cover of Seligman’s “Authentic Happiness,”  you might find numerous examples that are far deeper and much more profound than base slogans and profit-driven psyche tricks used in a conformist corporate climate. 

Please, try again Mr. Hedges.

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By Krassen Dimitrov kr, July 27, 2009 at 4:06 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Fantastic read! Congratulations!

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