Happiness Studies and Wellbeing: A Lacanian Critique of Contemporary Conceptualisations of the Cure


  • Colin Wright Centre for Critical Theory and MA Programmes in the Department of Culture, Film and Media, The University of Nottingham, UK




Happiness studies, wellbeing, self-help, positive psychology, biopolitics psychoa-nalysis, Jacques Lacan


Criticising the discourse of happiness and wellbeing from a psychoanalytic perspective, this article is in five parts. The first offers a brief philosophical genealogy of happiness, charting its diverse meanings from ancient Greece, through Medieval Scholasticism and on to bourgeois liberalism, utilitarianism and neoliberalism. The second contextualizes contemporary happiness in the wider milieu of self-help culture and positive psychology. The third explores the growing influence but also methodological weaknesses of the field of Happiness Studies. The fourth then focuses specifically on the notion of wellbeing and the impact it has had on changing definitions of health itself, particularly mental health. The fifth and final section then turns to psychoanalysis, its Lacanian orientation especially, to explore the critical resources it offers to counter today’s dominant therapeutic cultures. It also emphasises psychoanalytic clinical practice as itself an ethico-political challenge to the injunction to be happy that lies at the heart of consumer culture.


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How to Cite

Wright, C. (2014) “Happiness Studies and Wellbeing: A Lacanian Critique of Contemporary Conceptualisations of the Cure”, Culture Unbound, 6(4), pp. 791–813. doi: 10.3384/cu.2000.1525.146791.



Theme: Therapeutic Cultures