The degradation of the pursuit of happiness

In: Uncategorized

20 Dec 2007

Steve Salerno, the author of SHAM: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless (Crown, 2005), has an interesting article on the “happiness myth” in today’s Wall Street Journal. It discusses how the “pursuit of happiness” has become an American obsession. He is not talking about the term in the sense used by America’s Founding Fathers as part of a broader struggle for social progress. Instead it has become an expression of narcissism:

“Certain to end up under the trees of at least some Americans who don’t already own it is that unparalleled tribute to wishful thinking, “The Secret,” by Rhonda Byrne. The year’s blockbuster best-seller-cum-cultural phenomenon sold six million books and DVDs on the strength of the belief that you can imagine your way to total fulfillment.

“Some of the season’s hottest inspiration books, though not “how-to” in format, sell a similar message. Notable is Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love,” the story of one woman’s (literal) journey to happiness, in which she decided to forsake the comfort of her known life for regions uncharted. “Eat, Pray, Love” reached the top of the best-seller lists after being blessed by Oprah. Self-help guru Tony Robbins, too, has lately been spamming his online community with holiday offers. Various Robbins products, and even tickets to his entry-level seminars on personal reinvention, will likely end up as stocking-stuffers.

“If the quest for joy doesn’t take center stage at Christmas, it will surely pop up the following week. Typically, New Year’s resolutions that don’t involve weight loss have something to do with embracing change, choosing happiness, following your dreams, etc. We are consumed by the pursuit of happiness.”

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