Review: America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness Is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks

America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness Is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks
America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness Is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks by Ruth Whippman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A refreshingly honest, broad, and enlightening narrative of an immigrant’s search for happiness in a land that pursues happiness.

Ruth Whippman pulls no punches in this humor filled work. She explores, criticizes, debunks, and dispenses with a whole lot of ideas – many exploited commercially – of happiness and its pursuit in America. She spares nothing and no one – names (some changed) and organizations abound in the work with witty and insightful criticism rendering them and their wares impotent. She holds little back, in that brash, cringe-worthy American way, discussing her most private experiences and sentiments in this intriguing journey of her life.

Yes, she shocks a reader at times. With honesty, oversharing, and, occasionally, surprising wisdom.

Some minor peeves. Though religion, an ancient human institution, is explored within, Ruth does not address the vast reservoir of ancient wisdom, far beyond and set apart from religion, that offer so much insight and guidance. A simple example: “One devotes so much effort to searching, and little to finding.” Abstract, broadly applicable, and yet pithy. Applied to happiness, one may comprehend that the “pursuit” is not as important as discovering happiness in various aspects and activities of life. And, though so much contemporary research is cited within, very little exploration supports the aspirations expressed at the founding of the nation: “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Ruth writes of a founding father Jefferson’s sentiment, relating to happiness, but does not buttress it with convincing circumstances and events in Jefferson’s life and learning that could explain it.

Ruth also makes a compelling argument that the pursuit of happiness turns Americans into nervous wrecks. But ask this: how many Americans really do pursue happiness? There is a vast gulf between the pursuits of the upper 10% and the remaining 90%, just as the contemporary refrain distinguishes the greedy 1% and the struggling 99%. Most Americans, natives, occupants for centuries, and new immigrants, are engaged in a daily struggle for survival. Making enough to pay for the many expenses, such as basic healthcare, monthly bills, mortgages for homes, and daycare/college education – sometimes with multiple jobs – occupies almost all of the average working American’s attention. How much of one’s mind can one devote to consciously ‘pursuing happiness?’ Do the stresses of everyday living not contribute the most to one’s mental exhaustion?

That said, this book is a most informative read. The understanding Ruth comes to, in her journey toward happiness, is, to me, very much the same as my own.

A pleasant bit to me was her observation regarding society, “…society is let off the hook for taking any collective responsibility for children’s well-being or for offering any tangible practical support for families.” We are, one and all, society’s children. That contemporary society takes almost no responsibility defeats the established wisdom that it takes a village to raise a child. I’d lamented, in my own narrative of life America, that “Society takes no collective responsibility for the symptoms of its own enculturation.” It is endearing to see a similar finding from another rather different perspective.

A book recommended to every parent, culture and happiness aficionado, and would-be philosopher. Thank you for your honesty, Ruth!

A Goodreads Giveaway of an “Advance Uncorrected Proof’ received free and reviewed.

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About Rian Nejar

Rian Nejar is a mid-60's child from India. He trained and worked as an engineer in India, lived briefly in the Middle East, and arrived in America in the early 90's. After a Master’s degree in electrical engineering in America, he worked as an academic instructor, engineer, entrepreneur, and technical writer over the two decades since. Humbling and Humility is the first heartfelt written expression of his varied life experiences. He lives and writes in the Southwest United States.
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