Against Happiness


By Owen Flanagan

cover image of Against Happiness

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The "happiness agenda" is a worldwide movement that claims that happiness is the highest good, happiness can be measured, and public policy should promote happiness. Against Happiness is a thorough and powerful critique of this program, revealing the flaws of its concept of happiness and advocating a renewed focus on equality and justice.
Written by an interdisciplinary team of authors, this book provides both theoretical and empirical analysis of the limitations of the happiness agenda. The authors emphasize that this movement draws on a parochial, Western-centric philosophical basis and demographic sample. They show that happiness defined as subjective satisfaction or a surplus of positive emotions bears little resemblance to the richer and more nuanced concepts of the good life found in many world traditions. Cross-cultural philosophy, comparative theology, and social and cultural psychology all teach that cultures and subcultures vary in how much value they place on life satisfaction or feeling happy. Furthermore, the ideas promoted by the happiness agenda can compete with rights, justice, sustainability, and equality—and even conceal racial and gender injustice.
Against Happiness argues that a better way forward requires integration of cross-cultural philosophical, ethical, and political thought with critical social science. Ultimately, the authors contend, happiness should be a secondary goal—worth pursuing only if it is contingent on the demands of justice.

Against Happiness