I might say, ‘‘You make me happy.’’ Or I might be moved by something, in such a way that when I think of happiness I think of that thing.

Even if happiness is imagined as a feeling state, or a form of consciousness that evaluates a life situation achieved over time (Veenhoven 1984, 22– 3), happiness also turns us toward objects. We turn toward objects at the very point of ‘‘making.’’

Happiness as a happening, as involving affect (to be happy is to be affected by something), intentionality (to be happy is to be happy about something), and evaluation or judgement (to be happy about something makes something good).

Affect is what sticks, or what sustains or preserves the connection between ideas, values, and objects.


Affect and Intentionality

Mihály Csíkszentmihályi argues that ‘‘happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random choice, it is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated and defended privately by each person’’ (1992, 2).

Bodily transformations might also transform what is experienced as delightful. If our bodies change over time, then the world around us will create different impressions.

We are moved by things. And in being moved, we make things.

Happiness is what would come after. Given this, happiness is directed toward certain objects, which point toward that which is not yet present. When we follow things, we aim for happiness, as if happiness is what we get if we reach certain points.

Social Happiness

Good habits involve work: we have to work on the body such that the body’s immediate reactions, how we are impressed upon by the world, will take us in the ‘‘right’’ direction.

David Hume’s approach to moral emotions in the eighteenth century rested precisely on a contagious model of happiness. He suggests that ‘‘others enter into the same humour, and catch the sentiment, by a contagion or natural sympathy’’ and that cheerfulness is the most communicative of emotions: ‘‘the flame spreads through the whole circle; and the most sullenly and remorse are often caught by it’’ (1975, 250– 51; see also Blackman 2008).

Thinking of affects as contagious does help us to challenge an ‘‘inside out’’ model of affect by showing how affects pass between bodies, affecting bodily surfaces or even how bodies surface.

Some bodies are presumed to be the origin of bad feeling insofar as they disturb the promise of happiness, which I would re-describe as the social pressure to maintain the signs of ‘‘getting along.’’ Some bodies become blockage points, points where smooth communication stops.


Promising Directions

Anticipations of what an object gives us are also expectations of what we should be given. How is it that we come to expect so much?

Happiness is an expectation of what follows, where the expectation differentiates between things, whether or not they exist as objects in the present.

Our expectations come from somewhere. To think the genealogy of expectation is to think about promises and how they point us somewhere, which is ‘‘the where’’ from which we expect so much.

Although we can live without the promise of happiness, and can do so ‘‘happily,’’ we live with the consequences of being a cause of unhappiness for others.

Happiness, Freedom, Injury

We need to question what is appealing in the appeal to happiness and good feeling. And yet, some critics suggest that we have paid too much attention to melancholia, suffering, and injury and that we need to be more affirmative.

Bad feelings are seen as orientated toward the past, as a kind of stubbornness that ‘‘stops’’ the subject from embracing the future. Good feelings are associated here with moving up and getting out. I would argue that it is the very assumption that good feelings are open and bad feelings are closed that allows historical forms of injustice to disappear.

A concern with histories that hurt is not then a backward orientation: to move on, you must make this return.



The Affect Theory Reader; Gregg, Melissa, Seigworth, Gregory J., Ahmed, Sara

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *