Killing Joy: Feminism and the History of Happiness

Ahmed, Sara

This article offers a feminist critique of happiness. It proceeds by suspending belief that happiness is a good thing, or that happiness is what we want, as beliefs that are central to the intellectual history of happiness. The article suggests that feminist histories might offer an alternative history of happiness. It shows how happiness is what makes some things into goods (happy objects are those that are anticipated to cause happiness) and introduces the concept of conditional happiness, when one person’s happiness is made conditional upon another’s, to explore how, for some, happiness means following other people’s goods. The article considers feminist consciousness as a consciousness of unhappiness, of what is lost or is given up by following the paths of happiness. Such consciousness does not necessarily involve a form of self‐consciousness but a worldly consciousness in which unhappiness disturbs the familiar. The article reflects specifically on black feminist consciousness as a consciousness of what does not get noticed when happiness provides a horizon of experience. It concludes by suggesting that feminists might want to claim the freedom to be unhappy without making unhappiness into a political cause.