A Brit living in the United States exposes the dark side of the happiness business in her adopted country.
Upon moving to Silicon Valley with her techie husband, journalist and documentary maker Whippman discovered that, in the U.S., the pursuit of happiness was of prime importance. (When this book was published in England earlier this year, the title, The Pursuit of Happiness: And Why It's Making Us Anxious, did not mention America.) Naturally, she plunged into an exploration of the phenomenon, checking out what she dubs the commercial happiness machine. What might have been a tedious anti-American tirade is in fact a hilarious narrative full of barbed observations, personal anecdotes, and comical stories. In her research, the author joined anxious happiness seekers paying good money to attend the Landmark Forum, a direct descendant of Werner Erhard’s notorious “est” movement of the 1970s; took part in Wisdom 2.0, an annual conference where business leaders focus on the spiritual growth of their employees; visited the headquarters of the Zappos company, where cultural interviews of prospective employees weed out those deemed unfit at “Delivering Happiness”; and toured the offices of Facebook, famous for perfecting the art of keeping staff happy working long hours. A visit with Mormons in Utah, consistently ranked as the happiest people in America, left her wondering whether the cultural pressure to profess happiness might explain their high use of antidepressants. Closer to home, Whippman cast a cold eye on parenting techniques designed to produce always-happy children and on the pressures to present a positive outlook on Facebook and other social media. Her assessment of the positive psychology movement, one of the fastest-growing specialties in academia, is chilling. After putting the book down, readers may well agree with the author that if we want to be happy, what we really need to do is stop chasing after happiness and focus on living fuller lives.
A delightfully witty, enjoyable read.