If you are going to give your money to Jeff Bezos, don’t. Instead, dodge Amazon, go directly to Verso Books and get a copy of William Davies’ “The Happiness Industry”. Or, even better, if you are fortunate enough to be employed, start observing around your workplace for all those little things around you which seem to try to gear staff into “happiness” —whether that is a motivational poster, a team building exercise, some sort of access to a gym, or a mysteriously cozy and harmless chat with your manager. Then, ask yourself: does my boss really, really, really care about my happiness or is he just trying to make more money out of me? Does he have the same definition of happiness as I do? Is any living human even in possession of the ultimate truth as to what happiness is?
In more than 20 years of career making other people rich, I have seen countless consultants getting paid for motivational alchemy. The only change I have seen throughout these past 2 decades is that the old school guru used to yell frantically and mimic a brainwashed Amway salesman, while the current ones dabble in a hodgepodge of psychology, healthcare, and even buddhism. Happiness is a big business,. Every year, billions of euros are poured into research about “workplace wellbeing”, scholarly panels are organized at major business schools, and some unimaginative dullards have started to create the C-suite position of Chief Happiness Officer. According to some studies, almost 1/4 of the workers in North America and Europe are “disengaged”, allegedly costing the economy hundreds of billions. And, yet, nobody has found the answer. So, maybe it is time to cut the crap and ask ourselves: what if David Graeber is right when he talks about bullshit jobs?
When the sci-fi visionaries have failed us in their promise that technology would liberate us from work, it appears that the logic of capitalism has been to push us even harder into working more, and, as Graeber claims, even creating bullshit jobs, meaningless and dull, just to keep the people occupied and with some disposable income to consume, consume, consume. And this is painfully funny, because free-market clerics preach about how the government is the enemy yet, in an ironic twist, it has demonstratedly created more and more bureaucracy —the most fertile ground to plant the seed of a useless job.
Ironies and contradictions aside, the most worrisome feature of this “wellbeing at work” management religion is that for it to hold water and make sense in a philosophical way, it assumes plenty of immoral, erroneous or plain stupid things. For starters, it counts on a single, monolithic view of what a happy person looks like: hardworking all the way to the grave, smiley and neurotically health-conscious, and very, very rich. Second, the happiness cult implies that the only, most important thing people should do in order to be happy (and thus productive) is to make the choice and carry on —which, in turn, implies that sad or poor or unemployed people are lazy, indecisive, and thus had it coming their way. Third, the whole edifice of this mumbo jumbo relies on the neoclassical economics’ pathological fixation with incentives; that is, the mantra that all people need is to be given the right incentives for them to hyper-rationally act like robots —what those astrologers called economists call the “homo economicus”.
The madness has reached a level where those apparently inoffensive health apps and tracking devices are now creeping into the workplace, feeding gasoline to the conspiracy hysteria of a surveillance society where you either smile and work... or you are a freak, a pariah. Personally, I thought that the crumbling of capitalism would lead us into exploring new forms of enterprise organization, places where communal decision making through democratic mechanisms would lead into fulfilling social and productive arrangements. Instead, it seems that we are moving into a dystopian film. Go check Black Mirror for a taste of what I mean.