In the second half of the Performance as Design lecture at the V&A, we were introduced to happiness guru J.Paul Neeley who believes that he has found the answer, or more correctly answers, to the ultimate pursuit of magnaminous joy. The confounding thing about this lecture being that I left the lecture feeling rather depressed- it seems that I have a long way to go to reach my nirvana. J.P’s general argument being that the human race is doomed due to the unforeseen, wider consequences of our daily choices. Put simply- excessive consumerism = very bad news.
The lecture continued along the theme of design by examining its role in achieving happiness in a complex world. Neeley argued that design has to drastically change to satisfy long-term human wellbeing; and that this change has to incorporate a shift in the way we think and plan ahead. Neeley was particularly critical of the current way problems are solved, that the narrowing down of a problem into a single solution is simplistic and ignores the wider, cumulative outcomes. To use his exact words- design has to address “commutation irreducibility”.. or in other words design has to deal with that harsh and complicated real world. Get real indeed. This part of his speech I was mainly in agreement with. I studied geography at university and can recollect numerous times when we were told “it’s not that simple” or “look at the wider picture”, so it was good to see someone attempt to bring this approach into design. However, then Neeley started to talk about happiness, with the widest grin plastered across his face… and that is when I started to realise that Neeley’s understanding of happiness was quite different to my own.
Another part of Neeley’s belief evolved around the concept of happiness being an evolutionary basic or system. This means that by eating well (no additives or sugar), sleeping sufficiently, exercising and even breathing well- all in all achieving a level of angelic healthiness, one will attain an optimal happiness level. As such, Neeley monitored, controlled and prioritised his day around 26 happiness matrices, which unbelievably he then calculated into an equation to find his solution to happiness. The problem, which I hate to bring up, is that it is today’s modern world we are talking about. The air is not clean, I do not have time/stamina to jog on a treadmill and use my laptop at the same time (Neeley is basically god-like to manage this) and I do enjoy my sugary snacks a bit too much. Plus I have days that, by all accounts I am moody, just due to my hormones. By Neeley’s theory, I should then be unhappy; but I am not. My happiness often relates to the tiniest things- waking up with a good dream, the perfect vanilla latte, seeing an old friend and so forth. Yes perhaps I have a socially driven feeling of happiness, but not eating that cake makes me feel annoyed. I therefore believe that Neeley’s approach to happiness is rather isolating and frankly difficult in the modern era, where we are all tuned to find short-cuts and have less perseverence to maintain a strict and rigid path to happiness. It is consequently challenging to “move back to basics” when those very basics are tricky to establish and even harder to retain.