Notes towards a study of general happiness.

I have a proposition here, for anyone with a little time on their hands. I want to know how we can improve things. I won’t detail the question further, I need it to be as open as possible. We’ll narrow in later. No? Me neither. I’ll sketch it out, and contact me if you want to work on it.

What would make you happy? Rather than theorise and, in the process, generalise and banalise the condition of ‘everyday life’, I think we should go out and ask people about their lives.


We would carry this out in public places, in something a little larger than a photobooth but not suspiciously well-organised enough to like like BSkyB or the Scientologists. Private places, with signs saying ‘come and tell us what you think’, offering cups of tea and decent cakes, eclairs, doughnuts et cetera for those taking part. This will lure in those with an eye for a bargain or just plain hungry. For those happy to, we will take photos and set up a website documenting our research as it is carried out. Out of this, we will produce a film and maybe follow-ups of individual actors, but this will only be done for the sake of paying the rent if things don’t work out, or there is sufficient interest. Our survey might look a little like this:

“What do you really want?

Why do you want this?

Are you taking any action to obtain this?

Who do you most love?

Do you have any secrets?

How would the certainty of the human race’s annihilation in the relatively near future transform your perspective of life?

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

If you could remove one disagreeable trait or fact from human societies, what would this be?

What will people remember you for after you die?

Other final comments.”

—-Before we go further, I want to point out that you might really get something out of this if you attempt the questionnaire here. The rest of the blog just waffles on in a pretentious way about social discontent and critical theory, so save yourself some time and consider your own wants and desires —

Actually, something similar was carried out by incisive social thinker Pierre Bourdieu, called “The Weight of the World”, where he directed 22 researchers to spend 3 years interviewing and analysing social suffering in French societies. The result is interesting, and is far more well-known in France than here, but was roundly criticised for its dodgy research methods, which imposed and deliberately reflected its own viewpoints onto those interviewed.

Instead, we’d stick to a simple questionnaire. We could justify our effort by inventing a number of trinketized conceptual terms like ‘proletarian majesty’; ‘absolute dislocation’ versus ‘relative dislocation’; ‘eclair transference’; ‘enbafflement at interviewer’s blank expression’, ad infinitum.

More seriously, it seems that many of us are not happy with the government, be it the current coalition with its attacks on welfare and education, or previous governments with civil rights attacks, wars, or plunging remaining state assets into financial institutions which will not be recouped. As well as this, some of us are also unhappy with a more general trend of poverty, disintegration, unemployment and general base level of violence in contemporary London life ( – this isn’t an oblique reference to proletarian black British crime, this is the violence everywhere, in suburban shopping parades, late night trains and buses, in a more metaphorical way we see in it managers determining and restricting the lives of casual employers, in the institutional attitudes to service-users of social workers, GPs and local government employees, MPs, journalists, and of course, most familiar of all, my more pathetic emotions).

Many, educated or not, see a clear struggle between rich and poor, played out across global and local settings, in the way goods are manufactured and consumed, in the way the environment is consumed, in Northern Ireland or north-east London or northern England politics. This is rich versus poor, a banal theatre show watched with varying levels of fatalism and concentration spans. It’s interesting that David Harvey, one of our most interesting and intelligent Marxist thinkers at the moment, concludes his 2010 ‘Enigma of Capital’ with yet another optimistic exhortation of the anti-capitalist movement. In every industrialised country except the US and the UK it actually seems popular and real. Correct me if I’m wrong.

So enough people are unhappy, but lack any specific outlet. The Election of 2010 could have failed in that the vile twosome (vacuous toffs who have come to power through powerful connections and empty verbiage) might have been rejected by the urban proletarian electorate as an insufficient medium to project old social discontent on. But no, it doesn’t seem so. Let’s carry on eating cake and talking baat our love lives. “I loved you, knowing I’d never be your lover”. Read Carol Rumens,  ‘Once (after Pushkin)’, who has given us such beautiful and sad phrases like that. When does Reason wake up and tell these monsters to shape up and bugger off? We could use the study lastly to find out why this is.

I suggest we mount our photobooth-cum-social-centre to have its first expedition outside the Surrey Quays shopping centre, or inside the museum of childhood of those born in the 1980s called the Elephant and Castle shopping centre. Back me up here….

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