A critique of positive psychology: You are not obliged to fix yourself

by Mikayla Chadwick

Have you ever been told to take a bath to calm down? Have you read tips on cute

Insta pages about the calming effect of the smell of lavender? Or the process of manifesting goals? Have you ever seen influencers promote the idea of mantras as a solution to your failing career? Increasingly, we are encouraged by government funded health policy, influencers in pop-culture, and key figures in our society, that our metal health is our responsibility, and our problem to solve. Individuals with serious mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression are continuously trivialized by the affirmation that ‘your happiness is in your control’.

Positive psychology encourages the application of therapeutic programs that aim to utilize the potential in individuals to control their own happiness; innate in this new field of

psychology is the notion that happiness is the result of cognitive outlooks of individuals,

plasticized by the altering of daily emotional states. Sociologist Sara Ahmed works to

illuminate the effects of the government endorsing positivity. She essentially contends that positive psychology’s outlook is that melancholy is to be rejected in favor of happiness. What is unsaid about positive psychology, is that a society that realistically reflects on its inadequacies in making its population happy, must address the economic and social failures of its system.

This is not good for the economy. In employing positive psychology, the government attempts to counter the notion that its inadequacies are causing widespread unhappiness and uncertainty, therefore taking responsibilities off themselves and onto the individual. This keeps people convinced that it is their own fault they are unhappy, and not that their job is underpaying them, their government does not care about them, and they risk losing everything by coming across the wrong cop. The unhappiness of humanity is not only the problem of the individual. Governments endorse positive psychology as a scapegoat for addressing real problems of inequality that are leading to widespread unhappiness and fear.

Positive psychology has its benefits. However, it’s endorsement by governments raises

issues of neoliberal individualization and a shifting of responsibility from society to the

individual. Seeing the bigger picture within society when you are encouraged to ‘take

responsibility for your health’ is important. Sometimes mental health is situational: ask

yourself what your society is really doing to help you.

Mikayla Chadwick is a freelance writer based in Melbourne, Australia. Her areas of interest include queer and feminist topics, global affairs and popular culture. Mikayla holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree and is currently completing an Honours Degree at La Trobe University researching sex work policy reform. You can find Mikayla’s most recent articles at The Big Smoke, Hear Her Speak and The Green Fund, or by visiting her website, www.mikaylachadwick.com

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