Suddenly we are aware that a very particular kind of advertising has spread all around us. It appeals to happiness as a lifestyle, ‘accessible’ through the consumption of certain products. This kind of advertising threatens to become as copious as the eroticism and the almost-naked bodies that have been used for years in jeans and perfumes. Which products are associable to a good mood spirit, to emotional welfare and to the fact of allowing ourselves joyful episodes within a life full of demands? Those in mass consumption, food and beverages, of course.
Some weeks ago Clarín published a very good article analyzing the phenomenon: Coca-Cola with its “happiness factory”, Beldent with its “let’s spread laughter” and the already popular <<Riquelme is happy>> are just some examples.
Overstimulation on happiness, however, is not exclusive of advertising. This is only the tip of the iceberg. The issue is truly deeper. Advertising industry is lately seeking solid grounds, and what else can be better than science for that matter? (Haven’t we seen that commercials have also filled with anti-bacteria analyses, proteins and physiological effects in the body?) As for this new trend, advertising is supported on another wave –not minor at all- of disciplines that have recently resourced to study happiness, such as Economics and ‘positive’ Psychology. We only have to cast an eye on the cover of Time magazine (6th June) to understand that optimism science is ‘in fashion’. The wave becomes tsunami as we see the tons of self-help books that have appeared as fungi for the last ten years, promoting a life in which we must be happy.
So, what in the beginning might have stood for a way out –inspiring us to think positive and live with a smile- ends up establishing a new social demand. A whole new trend of thought regulates positivism. Not feeling happy begins to be wrong. Not thinking positive begins to be socially objectable. Not feeling good all the time seems to show there is something weird with us.
This is pretty dangerous. Mainly because it does not leave room to a whole repertoire of emotions which are normal to carry and which don’t have to necessarily always lead to joy and satisfaction. It does not allow any space for us to bear those alternative emotions without objecting them or being objected by our peers. What finally happens is that we add even more pressure to our feelings and we ban the possibility of walking through the diversity of experiences for which we are designed. It becomes difficult to tolerate frustration, to be patient and even to delay certain satisfactions (something that, according to contemporary psychologists, is a synonym of emotional intelligence).
If we inscribe normative beliefs that penalize us whenever we don’t feel so good, we will paradoxically foster a loop which will make the road to welfare even steeper: We’ll feel worse when realizing we are not as happy as we ‘should’ be.
Barbara Ehrenreich tackles these matters very well in her book: Smile or die. She exposes the naked truth: a constant bombing of ‘positive thinking’ that falls on us, distant being it from beneficial. It may force us to always avoid having our minds coming up with thoughts that ‘harm’ us.
For instance, a particular self-help trend related to the <<law of attraction>> has become popular, which in occasions shows its dark side. As apparently ‘everything that comes into your mind ends up becoming part of your life’, some patients with breast cancer get vulnerable –after many self-help sessions- to the notion that <<if you have cancer it’s because you must have wished for it without being aware>>. The weight of not being able to think positive finally gravitates over the patient as a second illness. What else is this other than a morbid twist of the demand of happiness?
There is another sign: a basic advice in the self-help literature. <<Get rid of the negative people in your life>>. This uncovers an implicit social punishment that does not forgive anybody. We, thus, run the risk of practicing intolerance, of rejecting others just because of who they are, and of finally being alone.
A study conducted by Arlie Hochschild (in the 1980 decade) revealed that, due to flight attendants being demanded to interact with passengers in a permanent good mood, they feel so much stress that they lose contact with their own emotions. If positive thinking turns into an imperative, we begin to asphyxiate in the feeling that we are not being genuine. We are blocking certain necessary emotional dynamics for handling particular circumstances and for maturing. Some sort of emotus interruptus.
The issue makes me remember a wise dialogue in the last film with Adam Sandler, Just Go with It. Sandler asks some kids one and again to keep smiling so as to pretend everything’s alright, until one of them disconcerts him: <<Why laughing all the time?, do we have problems?>>.
Happiness should not perform the role of social demand. We must be very careful in not adopting this paradigm which, far from promoting welfare, it may obsess us in a burdensome manner and move us away from freedom.
- Campanario, Sebastián (2011), La “ciencia de la felicidad”, una nueva meca para la publicidad; Clarín, Sunsay 5th June 2011; iECO, (p.12). (it may be found at: http://www.ieco.clarin.com/economia/ciencia-felicidad-nueva-meca-publicidad_0_493750860.html).
- Ehrenreich, Barbara (2009), Sonríe o muere. La trampa del pensamiento positivo; Turner, Madrid, 2011. (Smile or die).
- Time Magazine, June 6th, 2011. (it may be found at: http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,20110606,00.html).