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“You can actually choose to be happy at any time”: A critical discursive psychological analysis of accounts of happiness in ‘expert’ and ordinary discourse

Anderson, Emma ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8909-3335 (2019) “You can actually choose to be happy at any time”: A critical discursive psychological analysis of accounts of happiness in ‘expert’ and ordinary discourse. Doctoral thesis, York St John University.

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Abstract

In recent years, an interest in measuring and increasing citizens’ happiness has characterised many Western democracies, including the UK. At the same time, the new scientific discipline of positive psychology has produced a set of knowledges, techniques and instruments that encourage people to work on and understand themselves in specific ways. While there is a substantial body of work critiquing this turn to happiness, there is a lack of empirical research that examines what it looks like at an everyday level, and how it may inform ideas about successful citizenship. To address this gap, this thesis takes a critical discursive psychological approach to analysing two datasets – four best-selling books, and interviews with 30 UK residents on the subject of happiness. It was found that the books worked to generate a public health-style narrative around happiness, positioning it as “threatened” due to a mismatch between humans’ “fallible” brains and the challenges of the modern world, such as consumerism. To counter this universalised danger, individualised solutions of working on one’s habits, thoughts and choices were proposed, with happiness constructed as an ongoing practice.

There were considerable similarities in the interview data, with participants forming affective-discursive practices of cultivating appreciation, being mindful and making ‘good’ choices. However, participants took up a range of complex and shifting subject positions during the interviews, and their talk was dilemmatic, argumentative and occasionally troubled, particularly when they mobilised taken-for-granted, culturally dominant ideas about happiness in personal narratives. The thesis concludes that engaging with the rhetoric of positive psychology risks living out unresolvable contradictions. However, there were also resistances to the idea of being responsible for one’s happiness and to the habit of individualism, suggesting that alternatives are possible to the apparent dominance of neoliberal models of selfhood.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Status: Published
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
School/Department: School of Psychological & Social Sciences
URI: http://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/4463

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