Happiness NOW!

One of my more perverse interests is the bad self-help gurus who frequent day-time television. Today I enjoyed “Happiness NOW!”, by happiness expert Robert Holden, which, as the author told an easy-target Oprah, worked from a law-of-attraction approach… in other words, if you project positivity into the world, you’ll get positivity back. 

To prove his point, Holden and O dragged 6 average Joes onto the set to talk about their happiness or failure to reach happiness. Having completed surveys to measure their “happiness levels”, those who weren’t adequately happy were then systematically berated for not being in touch with their inner happiness, because “happiness starts now”. You just have to get in touch with your inner happiness… the world is inside your head… if it’s a happy world you construct then you’ll be happy. Such platitudes were then followed by a smug Dr Holden and O talking about the moments when they each discovered that they were the masters of their universe. This became quite surreal when O was talking about the moment “in 1985” when she realized that her world existed in “her head”, and it was hers to control… Hmmm.
I couldn’t find this particular footage, but here’s O talking on Larry King about how, I kid you not, a call from the casting director of The Color Purple is the basis of her particular brand of metaphysics:

My problem with this kind of stuff? Where do I start…
1) Law-of-attraction frameworks (eg the base of The Secret – for those who like their metaphysics by Channel 9 producers) provide a false sense of agency based on blaming the miserable and sick for their own state of affairs. This is really just a thinly veiled Social Darwinist approach: she got cancer because she was anxious, he’s poor because he wasn’t positive enough… Rather than working hard or otherwise as the deciding factor between success or a swift descent through the social sediment (eg ignoring class), law-of-attraction simply swaps work for “positivity”. This means people can feel comfortable for their successes because the less successful just weren’t positive enough – genetics, class, prejudice be damned – and dampen their fears of the great unknowns, eg cancer, which can be warded off through positivity alone (which I’m sure is a factor, but not the only factor). This might be my own pathology here (cynic, pessimist), but this sort of stuff irks me deeply.
2) Yapping on about connecting to your “inner happiness” trivializes the mechanics through which people can feel happy and secure. Yes, attitude is important, but there are a whole host of other factors that effect outlook and disposition – financial security, genetics, health, intra-family dynamics etc. Asserting that within any of these contexts one should be able to connect to their own happiness adds another thing to worry about. Why have I failed at happiness?
3) Self-help authors are not disinterested observers. They’ve got something to sell, so it’s in their interest that we believe in a quick-fix to happiness.
4) Telling people that they can feel happy if they want to is very, very similar to telling people to just get on with it.
5) AND (this might be too cynical, but) the same consumer capitalist societies which allow people like Oprah to find their happiness cannot function if everyone is able to create their ideal lives. Oh my god I’m so negative…
But seriously, when did Oprah get completely loopy with this kind of stuff? Is this what happens with obscene wealth and power?


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