Visual Archive: Happy Objects

‘The future has got me worried, such awful thoughts.
My head is a carousel of pictures.
The spinning never stops’-Bright Eyes (2002)

In a society where connotations of happiness are explicitly imposed on us through various forms of culture and media, is the pressure on us to constantly be ‘happy’ in fact doing more damage than good? Ahmed(2010:29) argues that ‘The very expectation of happiness gives us a specific image of the future. This is why happiness provides the emotional setting for disappointment’. Happiness although itself is not a commodity, notions of happiness are used to sell pretty much anything, implying that happiness can be achieved buy buying products that have been endorsed by happiness. It’s undeniable that brands and companies worldwide capitalise on notions of happiness with one of the most popular being Mcdonalds, ‘The Happy Meal’. This is so problematic to many vulnerable people, if we believe that consumer culture is the route to happiness, as dictated by the media, then it implies that happiness is out of our control. Retail therapy is a term that nearly everyone in the western world is familiar with, consuming with the intent to improve the mood of the buyer. In an article written by A. Selin Atalay and Margaret G. Meloy (2011) it states that:

Self-regulation theory suggests that bad moods cause individuals to fail at self-regulation (Tice & Bratslavsky, 2000). Similarly, according to Tice, Bratslavsky, and Baumeister (2001), emotional distress (e.g., anger, fear, loneliness) may shift priorities such that the individual will focus on shorter-term goals to escape the distressing situation, including engaging in more impulsive behaviors’. (2011:3)

As a long term suffer from depression and anxiety, I among many, have engaged in activities that would lead to a quick fix and elevate my mood. Abeit drugs, fitness, shopping, coffee, food or alcohol, engaging in consumer practices can be incredibly dangerous to individuals with depression and anxiety as they can become dependent and use these vices as an emotional crutch to lean on and keep them going without addressing the cause of their emotional distress.

The utopic vision of a ‘good life’ surrounds us on a daily basis and in a forever changing world anxieties towards uncertainty is growing and putting more and more pressure on us. We want to be successful, have a career, have a house, enjoy family life and holidays, travel the world and have good health. In reality it’s almost impossible to obtain all these expectations and wants that society puts upon us, but we also put upon ourselves.

In our neoliberal society pressure is put on us to better ourselves and this is explicit in the growing industry of ‘self-help’ literature:

‘Neoliberalism wants us to be able to produce as efficiently as possible, to be as well as possible in order to produce sustainable profit. But we have to do that on our own. Self-care as an idea is important, powerful and healing. However, it’s starting to seem like this idea that we have to be responsible over our own wellbeing can be a trap to ensure that we’ll continue to provide labour and be responsible over our ability to do so.’(2016)

I’ve had to seek professional help to maintain my self care and as a very personal person and this growing pressure to be happy or to give the perception that I’m happy leads me to feel like I’m engaging in a daily performance. On a day-to-day basis my life is a stage, I do my very best to keep all emotional reactions to myself to prevent signs of weakness. Despite my protective nature over myself, I cannot help but feel like this is reinforcing the good life narrative to those around me. Throughout working on this module, using my subjectivity to engage with theoretical concepts has been very empowering. When I’m so private in my ‘real’ life, yet so open and critical in my ‘virtual’ life, I hope that using my critical voice to critique the ‘good life’ narrative along with my subjectivity in relation to this can help raise awareness of mental health in an academic context.

Ahmed, S. (2010) The Promise of Happiness London: Duke University Press

Atalay, A. and Meloy, M. (2011). Retail therapy: A strategic effort to improve mood. Psychology and Marketing, 28(6), pp.638-659.

Kuang, R. (2017). The Neoliberal Trap of the Self-Care Rhetoric. [online] The Huffington Post. Available at: [Accessed 9 May 2017].



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