Book Review: The Pursuit of Happiness by Ruth Whippman

As part of Brit Mums Book Club I was sent a copy of The Pursuit of Happiness: and Why it’s Making us Anxious by Ruth Whippman.

I’ll be honest: I found this book really hard to read. In it Whippman has moved to California and decides to investigate “the pursuit of happiness” in its various different forms. She seems to do it from a decidedly snarky, arms-folded, scowling perspective though. She looks at Mormonism, people who attend seminars and workshops, parenting, social media, work, the phenomenon of positive psychology. In each case she seems to interview people and look into studies and suchlike, and then when she finds the hole in it, the person admitting this doesn’t really make them happy, she seems to be saying “Ha, see? Told you so!”

It’s not that I don’t agree with some of the things Whippman says; I’m sure that there are some deeply unhappy people in the Mormon community, and that Facebook does make people depressed, and that some parents do go too far in trying to make sure their children never once feel disappointment. But I don’t really understand the point in writing a book whose message seems to be “stop trying to be happy; it’s useless and you’ll end up miserable any way.” 

I am one of those people who tries to look on the bright side. I work hard to be positive because I know first hand how easy it can be to just slide down that slope into despair. I only post positive things on my Facebook because I don’t want to dwell on the negative; if you dwell on the negative, it increases – whether in your mind or in reality. So yes, I am one of those people who doesn’t post the whole truth on their social media. I’ve taken some stick for that lately but I think you’d probably be more fed up with my updates if I constantly moaned about how rubbish everything is or the fact my bathroom light is still not working.

Another thing about this book that bothered me was that it seemed to be one massive dig at America and US culture. As a Brit living in America, Whippman seems to have spent her entire time there privately judging everyone she met, and rushing home to make snarky notes for her book about how all Americans were stupidly running around after happiness, while clever British people know it’s all futile and we’re all doomed to be miserable. It’s a massive, sweeping generalisation that’s not what I would expect from someone who is clearly intelligent.

Aside from all this, the book is well written. Despite finding myself irritated on almost every page, I still managed to read it because it is engaging and interesting. I disagree with the tone and the general premise of the book, but it is still interesting in parts.

I’m not sure who I would recommend this book to; I suppose if you like to be miserable, and to judge people who try not to be, then this is the book for you.

NB I was provided with a copy of this book for the purposes of review but all words and opinions are my own.


 Thanks for reading.

You can read my other book reviews here.



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  • Catherine @ Story Snug


    Despite you not liking the book I enjoyed the way that you reviewed it, reading your review made me laugh which makes me feel happy :o) And I hope that you get your bathroom light working soon! #readwithme Catherine @ Story Snug recently posted...My Lucky Day by Keiko KaszaMy Profile

  • Jess @ Catch A Single Thought


    It doesn't sound like a great'd almost want the point to be that these things on their own don't make you happy but with other things and so on...otherwise she's not pursuing happiness is she?! Sounds a bit odd to me! Shame you didn't enjoy it as much as you could have. #readwithme Jess @ Catch A Single Thought recently posted...Our Easter HolidaysMy Profile

  • Chantelle Hazelden


    Well done you for getting to the end of it, I think I would have given up part way through as it sounds like I too would have been rather irritated by a lot of it. Thanks for sharing with #ReadWithMe Chantelle Hazelden recently posted...Read With Me 2016 #18My Profile

  • Rebecca Beesley


    it's been really interesting to see the differing reactions to this book. i enjoyed it overall but there were parts i didn't like. i found it hard to get into but then seemed to settle into reading it more easily. x Rebecca Beesley recently posted...The Pursuit of Happiness - Britmums Book Club book reviewMy Profile


  • When Will You be Happy? - Single Mother Ahoy


    […] few weeks ago I reviewed Ruth Whippman’s book about happiness, where she said that there seemed to be a degree of victim blaming, whereby people are told […]

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