The Promise of Happiness

Front Cover
Duke University Press, Mar 16, 2010 - Philosophy - 328 pages
10 Reviews
The Promise of Happiness is a provocative cultural critique of the imperative to be happy. It asks what follows when we make our desires and even our own happiness conditional on the happiness of others: “I just want you to be happy”; “I’m happy if you’re happy.” Combining philosophy and feminist cultural studies, Sara Ahmed reveals the affective and moral work performed by the “happiness duty,” the expectation that we will be made happy by taking part in that which is deemed good, and that by being happy ourselves, we will make others happy. Ahmed maintains that happiness is a promise that directs us toward certain life choices and away from others. Happiness is promised to those willing to live their lives in the right way.

Ahmed draws on the intellectual history of happiness, from classical accounts of ethics as the good life, through seventeenth-century writings on affect and the passions, eighteenth-century debates on virtue and education, and nineteenth-century utilitarianism. She engages with feminist, antiracist, and queer critics who have shown how happiness is used to justify social oppression, and how challenging oppression causes unhappiness. Reading novels and films including Mrs. Dalloway, The Well of Loneliness, Bend It Like Beckham, and Children of Men, Ahmed considers the plight of the figures who challenge and are challenged by the attribution of happiness to particular objects or social ideals: the feminist killjoy, the unhappy queer, the angry black woman, and the melancholic migrant. Through her readings she raises critical questions about the moral order imposed by the injunction to be happy.


What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
4 stars
3 stars
2 stars
1 star

Review: The Promise of Happiness

User Review  - Kate Savage - Goodreads

One of my favorite jokes: Q: How many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb? A: That's not funny. We've been trying to fight against the stereotypes of the feminist killjoy, dour queer, angry ... Read full review

Review: The Promise of Happiness

User Review  - Eryk Salvaggio - Goodreads

"The Promise of Happiness" is a analysis of how happiness is invented for people before they have a say in it, and how that happiness comes to define us. We have an obligation toward our own happiness ... Read full review


Why Happiness Why Now?
1 Happy Objects
2 Feminist Killjoys
3 Unhappy Queers
4 Melancholic Migrants
5 Happy Futures
Happiness Ethics Possibility

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2010)

Sara Ahmed is Professor of Race and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She is the author of Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others, also published by Duke University Press; The Cultural Politics of Emotion; Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality; and Differences that Matter: Feminist Theory and Postmodernism.

Bibliographic information