In the past, happiness studies has been dominated by the work of philosophers, economists and psychologists, but more recently there has been a growing interest from social scientist into the natures of happiness and wellbeing.
This original collection draws on the latest empirical research to explore the practical challenges facing happiness researchers today, such as how to conduct happiness research in different cultural contexts, how to theorise wellbeing or how to operationalise definitions of happiness in qualitative and biographical research.
By uniquely combining the critical approach of sociology with techniques from other disciplines, the contributors illuminate new approaches to the study of happiness and well-being.
There are always difficulties choosing cover images for books, particularly for one on wellbeing given the elastic, ephemeral nature of happiness. It is important for the image to be appealing, conveying something of the contents and attracting readers. Many happiness books employ banal symbols of fun, joy and leisure pursuits. Bright yellow covers, smiley emojis, dancers, beaches and mountains, fairgrounds and clowns all feature on recent texts. Such common-sense images of fun obscure the complexities of people’s lives and the life-long struggle to live well. Hence the less obvious cover image selected for this book. What does a pair of legs hanging lazily over the side of bridge say about this book and how we study happiness? The image taken of my 14-year-old son Theo, who was staring into a Scottish stream, encapsulates many of the themes we explore across the following eleven chapters. With a little bit of interpretative effort we can read this image as one about ‘having time’, to sit and enjoy the wonders of nature. Hidden in this shot are family members so the book is also about these pivotal relationships that carry us through life. The book is concerned with these nourishing and restorative moments that inform wellbeing in real time and imaginatively as we hold on to these memories through life. These moments are often about connections, to people, places and activities that are ingredients of a good life – that which makes life worth living.
I became interested in happiness studies in the early years of this century as much of the sociological research I had undertaken up to then had been concerned with the many problems people experience in modern societies – educational failure, unemployment, poverty, drug use and offending. I was keen to develop a more balanced account of everyday life as even the most troubled and disadvantaged subjects I researched spoke of their interests, hobbies and small moments of joy in their lives. Thus began an interest in researching the wellbeing of ordinary people – documenting these challenges of life that sociology traditionally explores but with a greater focus on more positive and nurturing experiences that makes life worth living. Approaching middle age, my friends were struggling with demanding careers, teenage children, health problems, failing marriages and bereavement. We were all curious about the strengths, resources and skills needed to live well during these times. We were intrigued by how much of life seems beyond our control, structured by wider social forces yet wished to understand how best to adapt to, resist and manage these influences. Can sociological research into wellbeing offer us insights into the different ways of managing life’s challenges? Reviewing the research at the time suggested there were few projects that addressed these questions as many studies offered broad surveys of life satisfaction or critiqued the happiness industry and its commodification of wellbeing. I was interested to hear the voices and stories of ordinary people talking about a good life; how their differing relationships, rituals, communities and shared histories informed their wellbeing.