Economists have spent most of the 20th century ignoring psychology, positive or otherwise. But today there is a great deal of emphasis on how happiness can shape global economies, or — on a smaller scale — successful business practice. This is driven, in part, by a trend in "measuring" positive emotions, mostly so they can be optimized. Neuroscientists, for example, claim to be able to locate specific emotions, such as happiness or disappointment, in particular areas of the brain. Wearable technologies, such as Spire, offer data-driven advice on how to reduce stress.
We are no longer just dealing with "happiness" in a philosophical or romantic sense — it has become something that can be monitored and measured, including by our behavior, use of social media and bodily indicators such as pulse rate and facial expressions.
There is nothing automatically sinister about this trend. But it is disquieting that the businesses and experts driving the quantification of happiness claim to have our best interests at heart, often concealing their own agendas in the process. In the workplace, happy workers are viewed as a "win-win." Work becomes more pleasant, and employees, more productive. But this is now being pursued through the use of performance-evaluating wearable technology, such as Humanyze or Virgin Pulse, both of which monitor physical signs of stress and activity toward the goal of increasing productivity.
Cities such as Dubai, which has pledged to become the "happiest city in the world," dream up ever-more elaborate and intrusive ways of collecting data on well-being — to the point where there is now talk of using CCTV cameras to monitor facial expressions in public spaces. New ways of detecting emotions are hitting the market all the time: One company, Beyond Verbal, aims to calculate moods conveyed in a phone conversation, potentially without the knowledge of at least one of the participants. And Facebook [has] demonstrated . . . that it could influence our emotions through tweaking our news feeds — opening the door to ever-more targeted manipulation in advertising and influence.
As the science grows more sophisticated and technologies become more intimate with our thoughts and bodies, a clear trend is emerging. Where happiness indicators were once used as a basis to reform society, challenging the obsession with money that G.D.P. measurement entrenches, they are increasingly used as a basis to transform or discipline individuals.
Happiness becomes a personal project, that each of us must now work on, like going to the gym. Since the 1970s, depression has come to be viewed as a cognitive or neurological defect in the individual, and never a consequence of circumstances. All of this simply escalates the sense of responsibility each of us feels for our own feelings, and with it, the sense of failure when things go badly. A society that deliberately removed certain sources of misery, such as precarious and exploitative employment, may well be a happier one. But we won't get there by making this single, often fleeting emotion, the over-arching goal.
Question: In the author’s opinion, the shift in thinking in the 1970s:
- introduced greater stress into people’s lives as they were expected to be responsible for their own happiness.
- was a welcome change from the earlier view that depression could be cured by changing circumstances.
- put people in touch with their own feelings rather than depending on psychologists.
- reflected the emergence of neuroscience as the authority on human emotions.
Question: The author’s view would be undermined by which of the following research findings?
- There is a definitive move towards the adoption of wearable technology that taps into emotions.
- A proliferation of gyms that are collecting data on customer well-being.
- Individuals worldwide are utilising technologies to monitor and increase their well-being.
- Stakeholders globally are moving away from collecting data on the well-being of individuals.
Question: According to the author, Dubai:
- develops sophisticated technologies to monitor its inhabitants’ states of mind.
- incentivises companies that prioritise worker welfare.
- collaborates with Facebook to selectively influence its inhabitants’ moods.
- is on its way to becoming one of the world’s happiest cities.
Question: According to the author, wearable technologies and social media are contributing most to:
- happiness as a “personal project”.
- disciplining individuals to be happy.
- depression as a thing of the past.
- making individuals aware of stress in their lives.
Question: From the passage we can infer that the author would like economists to:
- correlate measurements of happiness with economic indicators.
- measure the effectiveness of Facebook and social media advertising.
- incorporate psychological findings into their research cautiously.
- work closely with neuroscientists to understand human behaviour.