I am currently reading Ruth Whippman’s book The Pursuit of Happiness (and how it’s making us anxious) and although I haven’t quite reached the end yet I’m finding it fascinating. As a former Happiness Project disciple I have begun to feel thoroughly de-constructed. A pin has most definitely been unceremoniously jabbed into my little Americanised bubble. I say Americanised, but only half of me seems to be have been converted.
Several times throughout the book Whippman points out the marked difference between the British psyche and that of our Atlantic cousins – the former deeply entrenched in *reality* – with a heavy dose of ‘this is all a bit rubbish’ bubbling under the surface, whilst the latter remain perkily upbeat, optimistic and outwardly positive at all times. She remarks on the way in which us Brits have been involved in a huge sea change towards the American way (citing the changes she’s noticed in the things her British friends share on Facebook these days and the fact that we have also been enraptured by the idea of happiness as a goal we can achieve through activities like yoga, meditation and mindfulness).
Despite this tide of change in the UK, Whippman still talks of British ‘mummy’ bloggers as obsessing over smelly nappies and how our children have changed our lives for the worst whilst our American counterparts express nothing but the joy children have brought to their world. I think that’s a little simplistic. There are, for sure, British parenting bloggers who make parenthood (mostly) seem like the absolute best thing that ever happened to them , share a lot of beautiful pictures and talk of having a heart ‘full to bursting’ with the sheer volume of love that has come into their lives.
When I started up my linky, The Truth about… it wasn’t meant to re-dress the balance and pull us Brits (and anyone else who cares to have a moan) down to reality with a painful bump. Personally I would probably describe myself as an ‘optimistic realist’ and The Truth about as my way of engineering a collection of blog posts that will pique my interest, make me think, educate me, make me smile, make me laugh out loud, make me nod in agreement – essentially cover the gamut of light and dark, good and bad which makes us all human and makes us all *individual*. I don’t want to be homogenised into American mainstream Stepford family life.
Whippman’s research and personal discovery was that sometimes exuding a happy, perky, joyous veneer at all times so as not to lose face within your culture can lead to the complete obverse – hidden anxiety, hidden depression.
Her sojourn to Salt Lake City to experience the Mormon way of life is one of the most eye-opening parts of the book for me. Apparently, according to nationwide surveys, the residents of Salt Lake City are amongst the happiest people in the whole of the USA and initially that is exactly what Whippman experiences, but then another statistic comes to light. Salt Lake City also has one of the highest usage rates of anti-depressants. It definitely begs the question “just how important is the image that you choose to project to the outside world and what is the personal, mental, emotional and psychological cost?”.
One of the most useful discoveries that the book uncovers is that, in direct conflict with the American cultural juggernaut which puts increasing pressure on individuals to find happiness alone and within, in actuality real happiness – the kind which you don’t actively pursue, that you can’t get from a book or a ‘Personal Empowerment’ course – often stems from being part of a community and feeling a sense of belonging within a group. Social bonds and socialising in general are a big deal.
Having said that, I guess if there is one way in which you can ‘pursue’ happiness it is to do what you love, but do it within a group of like-minded people. It makes sense.