Souring Sweeteners

Souring Sweeteners

I was in a café waiting for my friend Sara. It was a long time since we saw each other last time. She finally arrived, late, as usual. She hugged me, made a soft caress and asked me, directly looking in my eyes: “How are you?”. I was not feeling bad, but suddenly I felt like for crying. I realized it was the first time in a long time someone was asking me for real how I was.

When we ask someone, lazily, automatically, kifek, the expected answer is always tamam, mnih, bien, good… This is a tricky issue. If we say to that person that we are doing bad, they will probably get shocked, eyes opened. Why is it so normal to feel good, and so worrying to feel sad? Both are equally normal sentiments in life. It is not only tricky, but dangerous: if normality means being happy, then sadness is an anomaly and, therefore, you must treat it.

Willian Davis developed on his book, The Happiness Industry (2015), very well this idea about why we ended up valuing happiness so much and who are taking profit of that. In it, he defends how technologies to measure our mood and algorithms to analyze emotions, are put at the service of economic and political interests. Our emotional state is one more commodity, marketed with different wrappers: from applications based on sophisticated algorithms to self-help literature, but also personal development coaches, mindfulness coaches or motivational speakers.

Precisely, based on the positive psychology of the early 90s, a whole bunch of sweeteners, tools to individually work on our happiness, have been set up within the capitalist logic. We can find one example in the GooglePlay App Happify: as if we counted with an online couch, the app proposes several daily exercises to work on our positive thinking and then avoid sadness. On the marketing of the app we can find the description as follows:

  • Struggling with everyday challenges and being gripped by negativity can be toxic to one’s emotional and physical well-being, relationships, and performance at work. So, when you start to turn the corner and begin to learn the new habits of successful engagement with life, everything starts to look brighter and better.
  • Science now provides the tools you need to make the changes you want. It requires a bit of work, but you’ll be surprised how soon you’ll start to feel a positive change. Our easy and effective exercises won’t give you excuses not to participate!
  • Optimism, gratitude, hope, compassion, purpose, empathy, and self-confidence are all qualities that anyone can have. You just must learn how to own them to transform your life.


Of course, this magic sweetener is affordable for the modest price of as low as $11.67/month; apparently, the only thing worse than being sad is being poor. As seen in the description, what Happify proposes is not to accept self-sadness, nostalgy, anger… since these feelings are not useful in society; instead of proposing to embrace them as normal feelings from which, by the way, we can learn a lot, it suggests that it is better to get rid of them throughout some positive-thinking exercises. Again, following the logic, once you downloaded the App, if you ever feel sad, the resulting conclusion for the individual is that the fault is on us; that this is mainly because we have not “exercised” enough, which at the end produces the reverse effect.

In the same trend, the most attended course currently in Yale is a training about Happiness. The UN develops its own World Happiness Report; and the OECD has its Better Life Index wonder how we can even measure such a subjective concept as Happiness internationally. Likewise, we can find the Happiest Person in the World, Mathieu Ricard. Even the US Declaration of Independence included the utopic claim for the right to Pursue Happiness; exactly, not the right to Happiness —whatever that could mean—, but the right to its pursuit.

With all these “happiness tools”, sweeteners, one should think that we live in a wonderful world. We actually do, in a single touch to Instagram: wonderful people, with wonderful brunches, in wonderful places. Quite an incredible gap, if we read the apocalyptic news. Which is the real balance between these two realities? And, however, anti-depressive consumption has been experiencing an extreme rise since the 90s, and is still expected to continue growing.

In the business sphere, it is the Italian author Michela Marzano who explains how this obsession with happiness has been encouraged and ends affecting the individuals. For companies, the motivation is to increase the performance of their workers. In fact, the 2017 research from the Iopener Institute in Oxford stated that productivity can increase by up to 65 percent when employees are happy. That is why more and more companies are endeavored at measuring their employees’ feelings through internal surveys and creating specific positions to ensure it. In fact, the ‘director of happiness’ has become a rising figure in many of the companies. Starting, once again, as in so many trends, by Google and its arch-famous guru Chade-Meng Tan, now president of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute.

It is also changing the profile most requested by human resources specialists quite an oxymoron, that treats humans as resources. There are already companies that hire their employees based on their happiness levels: they prefer optimistic people, who do not complain and who take on the company’s culture without difficulty. Increasingly, these criteria are prioritized over skills, training and even technical knowledge.


Ignacio Jimenez



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