Pursuing Happiness…

The Pursuit of Happiness

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.

8 thoughts on “Pursuing Happiness…

  1. I found this post really thought provoking Sam. More and more I think of myself as a realist more than an optimist or a pessimist but I think that is due to recent events more than anything. I kind of protect myself from what *might* happen by preparing myself in advance, if that makes sense? On the whole, our american counterparts appear far more positive generally. I definitely agree with happiness being found from being part of a group – a sense of ‘belonging’ if you like. Interesting post. x
    Suzanne recently posted…School’s Out For This Mumma!My Profile

  2. Very interesting conclusion. In fact this ties in exactly with the project I helped Movember with on my recent trip to Australia. Men, for a variety of reasons, can be rubbish at forming lasting, meaningful social connections. As a result, they often miss out on being part of a community. The result is all too plain to see in the large male suicide rate. Anyway, interesting insight into Salt Lake City. Just shows how damaging perception can be I guess! Thanks as ever for hosting #TruthAbout.
    John Adams recently posted…Father Christmas; the subject of playground gossipMy Profile

  3. It sounds like a really interesting read! I find it incredibly hard to put on a happy front if I’m not feeling it, even in writing. I co-run a linky on a Friday which is about 95% American linkers and I often find the tone in writing quite noticeably different to the UK blogs I usually read. Everything is much more immediate, more ‘awesome’, more influenced by God or big ideologies. I just can’t work up that kind of energy! x #thetruthabout
    Jess Powell (Babi a Fi) recently posted…A Nice Cup of TeaMy Profile

  4. Another great post Sam.
    It makes me wonder whether Whippman has any experience of the Australian bloggers such as Constance Hall, Kerri Sackville, Kylie Ladd and Lana, (I’m not sure what her last name is but her pen name is ‘Sharpest Pencil’). The thing I like about those ladies is that they are very frank, real and often funny. They have a kind of no holds barred attitude. They discuss dating, depression and the repetitiveness of everyday life plus the overwhelming passion that they have for their kids. Keeping it real is very important. As is, saying, it’s ok not to be ok.
    I was kind of stumped this week when I read psychologies magazine, (I subscribe), and discovered that the back page agony aunt had commit suicide!!!! It definitely made me wonder whether all this self help is helping? Having said that I will willingly accept all help on how to be more happy, including ‘How to manage change,’ and I don’t mean what’s in my purse.

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