Feel as you're told 1

January 28, 2010

The manifestation of mushrooming wellbeing initiatives across the academic landscape may be rooted in a number of factors, and I applaud those colleagues who question their altruism ("Get happy, and get on with it", 21 January).

Many of these programmes are too prescriptive when it comes to how we should feel. Ironically, this is disempowering, as we aren't encouraged to acknowledge emotions as they occur, interpret their meaning through our own life histories and use the information to guide our behaviour.

My own, rather sinister, view is that this leads to a creeping homogenisation of emotions and behaviour. We receive manuals instructing us how to feel, excluding, of course, those emotions that do not fit into the wellbeing agenda. However, the very hallmark of emotional evolution has always been diversity, a circumstance in stark contrast to the developments materialising in universities (and elsewhere).

Emotions contain data about us, our environment and what matters to us. The moment organisations turn to prescriptive measures to regulate them, there is a peril that our lives will be impoverished, not enriched. Instead of understanding what causes us to be stressed at work or why we feel anxious when facing redundancy, we are encouraged to believe that happiness and wellbeing are easily acquired commodities. It's a cover-up, no more.

Dirk Lindebaum, Postdoctoral research fellow in organisational psychology, University of Manchester.

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