Sociology, biographical research, and the development of critical happiness studies

Mark Cieslik*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


This chapter discusses findings from a recent project in the UK that used biographical/narrative methods to investigate the social practices around wellbeing and the everyday efforts to live well in difficult times. In contrast to much quantitative studies and policy research into subjective wellbeing I document how wellbeing emerges from the social networks and the life histories of individuals. Hence, I explore how concepts such as habitus, practice and field can help us understand the ways class and gender relations influence the experiences of wellbeing across the life course. I discuss how efforts to ‘live well’ can be a positive and creative response to the challenges that people face at key moments in life. This approach to wellbeing/happiness contrasts with popular critiques of the ‘happiness industry’ that views the consciousness of wellbeing as a problematic consumerist or narcissistic subjective phenomenon. This distinctive focus on the everyday processes of living well also differs from much of the existing wellbeing literature and its concern with measurement, correlations and generalisations about the sources of happiness. The paper calls for a greater appreciation of the phenomenological features of wellbeing and the need for further qualitative and critical research in happiness studies.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCritical Happiness Studies
EditorsNicholas Hill, Svend Brinkmann, Anders Petersen
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781351397056
ISBN (Print)9781138304437
Publication statusPublished - 5 Dec 2019

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