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October 31 , 2009

The Pursuit of Happiness

And Why It’s Making Us Anxious


‘Six months ago I would have found it hard to believe that I would be discussing the path to everlasting bliss with the gynaecologist, but after a stint living in California it feels almost routine.’

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For a Brit raised on a diet of armchair cynicism, when Ruth Whippman moves to the States, the American obsession with hunting down the happy-ever-after seems, well, all a bit much. It’s not that Ruth doesn’t want to be happy. It’s just that it feels embarrassing to discuss it, and demeaning to chase it, like calling someone moments after a first date to ask them if they like you.

But then she begins to question whether she might have an attitude problem. Could she be happier if she just tried a bit harder? Ruth meditates and tries out ‘mindful dishwashing’. She attends a self-help course that promises total personal transformation (and learns that everything bad that has ever happened to her is essentially all her own fault). She visits a strange Nevada happiness dystopia, an entire city built around the principle of delivering happiness to its residents, and investigates why its suicide rate is several times the national average. She delves into some of the darker truths lurking behind the highly influential academic ‘science of happiness’, and goes to Utah to stay with the Mormons – statistically America’s happiest people. She even learns God’s own personal secret to eternal bliss.
But it begins to seem that the more people strive for happiness, the less likely they are to actually be happy. Is there a more effective, less self-involved, less anxiety-inducing way to find contentment?

Eye-opening, challenging, disturbing and surprising, this is a fantastically fresh, funny and honest look at what happiness really means.

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