Are Americans happy? What are the conditions for happiness? Those are the perennially challenging questions that Lawrence Samuel examines in Happiness in America. This cultural history looks at how happiness has been defined, evaluated and promoted from the 1920’s to today. Of course, the whole question started with the inclusion of the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence.
Samuel mines scholarly studies, statistical surveys, and popular self-help books to show that there have been many different takes on what happiness is and how to achieve it. He thinks that Americans are actually a fundamentally unhappy people. He also theorizes that happiness is an overrated emotion, and that we should instead be pursuing joy which he defines as a deeper, richer experience. The last chapter of the book lists twelve attributes of joy, including positivism, appreciation, kindness and gratitude. So maybe, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” is an impossible task, but joy is within reach.
Check out Happiness in America!