My entry point for building a theoretical framework for the topic of misery was, paradoxically, through the study of happiness.
I read Happiness of Design (Paul Dolan, 2014) and the Architecture of Happiness (Alain de Botton, 2006) to inform my understanding of the cross-over between design and emotional well-being. Coming across The Happiness Industry (William Davies, 2015) was a pivotal point in my research. Will’s sharp critique of current trends around well-being measurement and monitoring lead me to consider happiness’ opposite: misery.
In turn I consumed The Power of Negative Emotions (Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener, 2015) a modern self-help book that considers the useful role of negative experiences in overall well-being. Simultaneously I looked to historical writings by Aristotle and Freud. A key finding I gleaned from Aristotle’s Ethics (1978) was the differences that have emerged in interpretations of happiness. Aristotle conceptualised happiness as ‘doing good’ whereas currently society tends to conceptualise happiness as ‘feeling good’. Within Aristotle’s altruistic definition of happiness there is presumably space for negative emotions to come to the surface while still considering oneself to be a ‘happy’ person. On the contrary, the modern definition of happiness as 'feeling good' is not so flexible. This realization became a node of interest for me.
In Freud’s essay On Mourning and Melancholia (1917) he outlines the difference between the two phenomenon. Mourning, he considers, is the healthy expression of grief over the loss of a loved entity. Melancholia, in contrast is chronic suppressed mood caused by an individual’s inability to confront a loss they have suffered. In many respects melancholia is akin to our modern interpretation of depression.
Freud’s belief that it is healthy to confront and express loss informed my desire to create a means of embracing, rather than shunning, misery.