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.