Happiness and the Art of Life: Diagnosing the psychopolitics of wellbeing

M. Greco, P. Stenner


Building upon the idea of a psychology without foundations and on vitalist approaches to health, the paper presents the concepts of ‘joy’ and of ‘gay science’ as theoretical points of contrast to Seligman’s ‘happiness’ and ‘positive psychology’. Defined by Spinoza and Nietzsche as the feeling of becoming more active in the world, joy emphasises the embodied connection between self and world. By contrast, we propose, a defining characteristic of the contemporary happiness dispositif is precisely the feature of splitting the subject from their world; of treating feelings and desires as purely internal, individual and subjective affairs; and of effectively cutting people off from any of their powers that do not correspond to a limited mode of entrepeneurial subjectivity and practice.


positive psychology; affect; joy; governmentality; wellbeing

Full Text:



Abramson, L.Y., Seligman, M.E.P., and Teasdale, J.D. (1978). Learned helplessness in humans: Critique and reformulation. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 87, 49-74.

Alesina, A., Di Tella, R., MacCulloch, R. (2004). Inequality and happiness: Are Europeans and Americans different? Journal of Public Economics, 88, 2009.

Barry, A., Osborne, T., Rose, N. (eds) (1996). Foucault and political reason: Liberalism, neoliberalism, and rationalities of government. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bok, D. (2010). The politics of happiness: What governments can learn from the new research on well-being. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Brown, S.D. (2001) Psychology and the art of living. Theory and Psychology, 11 (2), 171-192.

Author (2008). Psychology without foundations: History, philosophy and psychosocial theory. London: Sage.

Burchell, G., Gordon, C. and Miller, P. (1991). The Foucault effect: Studies in governmentality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Canguilhem, G. (1989 [1966]). The normal and the pathological. New York: Zone Books.

Christopher, J. C., & Hickinbottom, S. (2008). Positive psychology, ethnocentrism, and the disguised ideology of individualism. Theory & Psychology, 18, 563–589.

Chrystal, K.A. and Mizen P.D. (2003). Goodhart's law: Its origins, meaning and implications for monetary policy. In Paul D. Mizen (ed.), Central banking, monetary theory and practice: Essays in honour of Charles Goodhart (vol. 1) (pp. 221-243). Cheltenham, U.K. and Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar.

Cromby, J. (2011). The greatest gift: Happiness, psychology and governance. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 5(11), 840-852.

Cruickshanks, B. (1996). Revolutions within: Self government and self-esteem. In A. Barry, T. Osborne and N. Rose (eds) Foucault and political reason: Liberalism, neoliberalism, and rationalities of government (pp. 231-252). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Danziger, K. (1990). Constructing the subject. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dean, H. (2010). Understanding human need. Bristol: Policy Press.

Dean, M. (1999). Governmentality: Power and rule in modern society. London: Sage.

Deleuze, G. (1992). Postscript on the societies of control, OCTOBER 59, Winter 1992, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp.3-7.

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1983). Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Du Gay, P. (1995). Consumption and identity at work. London: Sage.

Easterbrook, G. (2003). The progress paradox. New York: Random House.

Edgeworth, F.Y. (1881). Mathematical psychics: An essay on the application of mathematics to the moral sciences. London: C.K. Paul.

Edwards, C. and Imrie, R. (2008). Disability and the implications of the wellbeing agenda: Some reflections from the United Kingdom. Journal of Social Policy, 37(3), 337-355.

Ehrenreich. B. (2010). Smile or die: How positive thinking fooled America and the world. London: Granta.

Foucault, M. (1977). The confessions of the flesh. In Power/knowledge: selected interviews and other writings. London: Longman.

Foucault, M. (1987). The use of pleasure: The history of sexuality volume 2. (R. Hurley trans). Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Frey, B. S. and Stutzer, A. (2007). Should national happiness be maximized? Working paper no. 306 of the Institute for empirical research in economics, University of Zurich. Available at http://www.zora.uzh.ch/31973/

Furedi, F. (2004). Therapy culture: Cultivating vulnerability in an uncertain age, London: Routledge.

Author (1993). Psychosomatic subjects and the ‘duty to be well’: Personal agency within medical rationality. Economy & Society, 22(3), 357-372.

Author (1998). Inconspicuous anomalies: Alexithymia and ethical relations to the self. Health, 5(4), 472-492.

Author (2009). On the art of life: A vitalist reading of medical humanities. In J. Latimer and M. Schillmeier (Eds.), Un/knowing bodies (pp. 25-45). Sociological Review Monographs. Oxford: Blackwell.

Haidt, J. (2006). The happiness hypothesis: Putting ancient wisdom to the test of modern science? London: Arrow Books.

Held, B. (2004). The negative side of positive psychology. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 44, 9–46.

Higgins, W. (2007). How are we governed now: Neo-liberalism, governmentality and the nullification of substantive policy. Journal of Australian Political Economy, 57, 1-29.

Higgins, W. and Halstroem, K. (2007). Standardization, globalization and rationalities of government. Organization, 14 (5), 685-704.

Horney, K. (1991 [1950]). Neurosis and human growth: The struggle towards self-realization. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

Isin, E. (2004). The neurotic citizen. Citizenship Studies, 8(3), 217-235.

Keynes, J. M. (1930/2009). Economic possibilities for our grandchildren. In J. M. Keynes (Ed.), Essays in persuasion. New York: Classic House Books.

Kidd, J. (2008). Mental capital and wellbeing: Making the most of ourselves in the 21st century. Published by the Government Office for Science, available at http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/foresight/docs/mental-capital/sr-c10_mcw.pdf (accessed on 10/10/2013).

Latour, B. (2005) What is given in experience? Boundary 2, 32(1), 223-237.

Layard, R. (2005). Happiness: Lessons from a new science. London: Allen Lane.

Morris, I. (2009). Teaching happiness and wellbeing in schools: Learning to ride elephants. London: Network Continuum Education.

Myers, D. (2000). The American paradox. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Nettle, D. (2005). Happiness: The science behind your smile.

Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Newman, M. (2010). Get happy and get on with it, Times Higher Education, January, 2010 available at http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=410055 (accessed on 10/10/2013).

Nietzsche, F. (1968). The will to power. (trans. W. Kaufmann & R.J. Hollingdale). New York: Vintage Books.

Nietzsche, F. (1969). On the genealogy of morals (trans. W. Kaufmann). New York: Vintage Books.

Power, M. (1999). The audit society: Rituals of verification. Oxford: Oxford University


Rose, N. (1999). Powers of freedom: Reframing political thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rose, N. (2006). Disorders without borders? The expanding scope of psychiatric practice. BioSocieties, 1: 465-484.

Schwartz, B. (2004). The paradox of choice. London: Harper.

Seligman, M. (1998) The President’s address from the 1998 APA Annual Report, available on http://www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/aparep98.htm (accessed on 10/10/2013)

Seligman, M. (1998). President’s Address from The APA 1998 Annual Report, appearing in the August, 1999 American Psychologist.

Seligman, M. (2002). Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. New York: Simon and Shuster.

Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology [Special issue]. American Psychologist, 55(1).

Knowledge@Wharton (2009) ‘Psychological capital’: How employees personality traits can contribute to the bottom line, available at http://www.wharton.universia.net/index.cfm?fa=viewArticle&id=1756&language=english (accessed on 10/10/2013)

Slife, B. D., & Richardson, F. C. (2008). Problematic ontological underpinnings of positive psychology: A strong relational alternative. Theory and Psychology, 18(5), 699–723.

Sointu, E. (2005). The rise of an ideal: tracing changing discourses of wellbeing. Sociological Review, 52(2), 255–74.

Author (2013). Affectivity, Informática na Educação: Teoria e prática, 16(1), 49-70

Author (2011). Psychology in the key of life: Deep empiricism and process ontology. In P. Stenner, J. Cromby, J. Motzkau, & J. Yen, (Eds.), Theoretical psychology: Global transformations and challenges. Concord, Ontario, Canada: Captus Press.

Author (2008). Psychosocial welfare: Reflections on an emerging field. Critical Social Policy, 28(4), 415-437.

Taylor, D. (2011). Wellbeing and welfare: A psychosocial analysis of being well and doing well enough, Journal of Social Policy, 40(4), 777-794.

Whitehead, A. N. (1985 [1925]). Science and the modern world. London: Free Association Books.

Whitehead, A.N. (1935). Adventures of ideas. London: Cambridge University Press.

Whitehead, A. N. (1968 [1938]). Modes of Thought. New York: The Free Press.

Yen, J. (2010). Authorizing happiness: Rhetorical demarcation of science and society in historical narratives of positive psychology. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 30(2), 67-78.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5195/hcs.2013.147


  • There are currently no refbacks.