I really wanted to like this book. The whole idea of the act of chasing happiness having the adverse affect intrigues me. After all, who doesn’t want to be happy? Aren’t we all on that journey?
But I found the author got in my way. Having spent half my life in the US, her sweeping generalisations about “American” parenting immediately put me on the defensive. The ease with which she labels an American way of doing things as a “problem” is overly simplistic. Additionally, describing it as a uniquely American problem ignores examples of this type of behaviour in the UK and beyond.
Parts of the book drew me in. I was interested in the Mormon view of happiness, and agreed with the idea that we are raising children in an age of indulgence and that protecting them from experiencing negative feeling is just putting off problems that will plague them later on in life.
But each time I found something that I liked about the book and could connect with, I’d run smack into sentences that seemed crafted for Daily Mail headlines rather than serious thought, lines like “Is this Great Search for Happiness creating a nation of nervous wrecks?” and “What is driving this frenetic edge to American parenting?” Could we just take out the word American?
I know plenty of parents in Henley-on-Thames, where I live, and leafy south London that circle over their children like overzealous Secret Service agents, who post “happy” pics of their kids on Facebook. In the UK, people couch these observations in self-deprecating terms but aren’t they simply replicating this “American” phenomenon with a British flair?
I found the chapter about having to pay dearly for any meaningful early childhood education/experiences just not true. Yes, the British government pays for preschool from age 2 (though going as young as 2 is a relatively new thing). But there are plenty of “free” options in the US. There’s a whole network of playgroups (Las Madres, for example) I don’t think the author tapped in to.
Did I like the book? I found parts interesting. Would I recommend it to friends? Yes, for those interested in a different perspective on modern life and who are skeptical about the breathless pursuit of “happiness” as a panacea for the stresses of life. Like me, they may find sections that resonate as well as other other parts they take exception too.
We could talk about it over coffee or cocktails. Come to think of it, that would make me happy.
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