Are the British growing ever more unhappy? Madeleine Bunting at the Guardian thinks so, and she offers this evidence: putative increases in “depression, crime, obesity and alcoholism.” Granted, the notion of fat, depressed, drunken criminals slobbering over England’s green and pleasant land is enough to make me unhappy. Luckily, Bunting knows the cause of this dire problem: “consumer capitalism is making us ill.” Even better, she has the solution: the “therapy state.”
The therapy state will protect us from “emotional pollution,” much the way that it protects us from environmental degradation. But what, exactly, pollutes the emotions in that poor, wretched country? “Top of the list,” Bunting writes, “would be advertising, which is bad for our emotional health.” Next on the list is TV, which “makes people unhappy, less creative and cuts them off from emotionally healthy activities such as sport or seeing friends.”
This is a nation on the rack.
And how, exactly, will the therapy state deliver happiness unto the Brits? Behold, there are programs on the way.
The most dramatic development of the “therapy state” will come with the announcement, expected later this week, of a big increase in the availability of cognitive behavioural therapy on the NHS. But there has been a rash of smaller initiatives as government departments grapple with how to integrate this new dimension into policy. The Department for Education and Skills launched new guidelines earlier this year on the social and emotional aspects of learning (Seal). The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is now proposing to introduce indices of welfare and life satisfaction and how they relate to sustainability.
“Dramatic” is Bunting’s own word, which I am happy to take her at. Things could be worse. One could imagine a happiness police, like the bobbies in London only with even funnier hats. They would burst into people’s homes and bully them into trances of noncapitalistic joy. Surveillance cameras would ignore cheerful terrorists but zoom in on every frown. Hamlet would be mandated to end with the whole family reconciled at the therapist’s, and Macbeth would change his mind about killing Duncan and spend the entire play making the weird sisters feel wanted.
Of some interest, given the research discussed here, is the absolute absence of marriage, children, or any form of family life in Bunting’s rather feeble notion of happiness-making activities. She cites vaguely beneficent or hedonistic pleasures: sports, festivals, “doing someone a good turn,” and the like. These are to be guaranteed by the therapy state.
Fine. But what are they, other than the motions of lonely, disoriented individuals? After all the sporting events and festivals – after all the good turns are done – one must return home. And it is one’s situation there, above all, and one’s conduct there, secondly, that will determine happiness or the lack of it.