A wide-ranging analysis of communal joy, including suggestions on how to get it back.
Feminist and activist Segal (Psychology and Gender Studies/Birkbeck Coll.; Making Trouble: Life and Politics, 2008, etc.) dives into the fraught realm of happiness studies and how we balance collective joy with personal fulfillment. “Writing a book on happiness is surely one of the most foolish hostages to fortune I have ever given,” she freely admits in the preface. “Who am I to lay claim to any expertise on the matter?” So begins an expansive and contemplative exploration of love, joy, desire, and the concepts surrounding Utopias, all of which find the author navigating human psychology, sociology, societal mores, and the economics of happiness. Here, she’s really talking about the nexus between our private happiness and the need and desire to share that joy with others, creating a Venn diagram that hovers between the public and the private. Segal’s writing is surprisingly accessible, with lots of references to people and cultural tics one might not expect. She nods to old chestnuts like Freud, who argued that the evolving process of “civilization” makes people unhappy because it restricts individual desire, but in talking about resisting the “happiness imperative” brought down on society, she brings in black scholar Cornell West, who argues that joy cuts across individual pleasure. “Joy tries to get at those non-market values—love, care, kindness, service, solidarity, the struggle for justice—values that provide the possibility of bringing people together,” West notes. Segal also mourns for a collective joy that has been damaged or killed not just by inequality, but also by modern irony. “If happiness can prove elusive or fleeting over a lifetime,” she writes, “joy itself is often not mentioned at all today, except glibly.”
A calm, refreshing breath of fresh air in a dangerously uncertain moment in human history.