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Logo of brjgenpracRCGP homepageJ R Coll Gen Pract at PubMed CentralBJGP at RCGPBJGP at RCGP
Br J Gen Pract. 2016 April; 66(645): 206–207.
PMCID: PMC4809699

Books: The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being

The Snare of Happiness
Reviewed by Adam Staten, GPVTS ST3

The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being.
William Davies 
Verso,  2015, HB,  320pp,  £13.59. ,  978-1781688458.

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We live in an era of unprecedented progress in the study of emotions and, in particular, of happiness. You might assume that this is a good thing but this fascinating book may well persuade you otherwise.

For the last 200 years the study of happiness, or ‘well-being’ as it has come to be known, has been inextricably linked to the fields of economics and marketing, which has led to some studies, experiments, and outcomes of breath-taking cynicism. Davies tells us that, perhaps unsurprisingly, research and thought in this area have not been directed towards improving the lives of individual people, but have rather been aimed at increasing workforce productivity and economic output. In fact, happiness has recently been a hot topic of discussion in no less sinister an environment than the annual Global Economic Forum in Davos.

We read how happiness has become a utilitarian tool and, as we have gained the ability to assess and monitor mood with ever more advanced technology, such as functional MRI scanning, the exploitation of our good mood has become ever more sophisticated. In this book you will meet such nefarious-sounding people as the ‘neuromarketers’, who attempt to target their advertisements at our most vulnerable neural impulses. Our happiness, it seems, has insidiously evolved into a weapon to use against us and a snare in which we can become entrapped.

With a few further references to the meddling of Big Pharma in psychiatric diagnostic criteria and Facebook experimenting with mood manipulation, this is a book to truly rob you of your innocence. But the real genius of the author is his ability to move seamlessly between philosophy, economics, psychology, and politics, covering huge swathes of research from the bizarre to the revolutionary.

An engrossing read, this book also helps to explain how stress and unhappiness have become medical problems and in doing so it helps to make sense of many of the people who sit opposite us in the consulting room every day.

Articles from The British Journal of General Practice are provided here courtesy of Royal College of General Practitioners