To gain a healthier view of happiness, we must first understand how the American approach to positivity got so cockeyed. Unsurprisingly, Hefferon says we have capitalism to blame. "There has been a push socially and corporately toward insisting on happiness as the highest value, since it does, technically, increase productivity and health," he says. The research on this is cogent. "Happier workers, happier family members, and happier people tend to be more productive, more loving, more peaceful, and more law-abiding," Hefferon asserts. But because American culture thrives on monetary gain, corporations took this knowledge and sold it back to us in the form of self-help books, meditation classes, and "keep calm" posters. In other words, over the past three decades or so, happiness has become a for-profit enterprise.
But big business isn't the only factor. According to Helen Odessky, PsyD, psychologist and author of Stop Anxiety From Stopping You, mental health research itself has also contributed to our cultural quest for positivity (though not on purpose). "As a field, psychology went from studying depression to studying happiness. Along with this progression, we began to feel pressure to be happy and to compare our happiness levels," she says. Complex but true, scientific research, commodification, and societal pressures have all played a role in America's fetish for happiness.
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