The Happiness Myth: Why Smarter, Healthier, and Faster Doesn't Work

Jennifer Michael Hecht, Author . Harper San Francisco $24.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-081397-0

History teaches us, contrary to popular belief, that money can buy happiness, drugs are mostly good, low-fat diets may not prevent cancer or heart disease. For Hecht, the assumptions about happiness that guide our actions are distorted by myths, fantasies and "nonsensical" cultural biases. Taking a tour of historical and contemporary ideas of happiness, Hecht (Doubt: A History ) demonstrates that women's clothes shopping is a celebratory act of freedom from the long nights their ancestors spent spinning, and that the shopping mall gives us back some of the social intimacy of group activity that consumerism wiped out of our lives. In the 1830s, Sylvester Graham encouraged Americans to identify whole-grain, home-baked bread with happiness, a notion still embodied today in myriad message-carrying birthday and anniversary cakes. Our love of sports and exercise stems from Southern slaveholders' need to distance themselves from heavy labor and its connotation of slavery, and from the Protestant equation of happiness with aggressive self-control and self-denial. American ambivalence about drugs reflects our fears about unproductive happiness and palliatives that numb us into complacency. Although the erudite Hecht (Doubt: A History ) sometimes loses her audience in verbose, philosophical dissections, her energetic romp through the arbitrariness of history's ideas about happiness is eclectic and entertaining, providing ample perspective on the rituals that make us human. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 11/13/2006
Release date: 04/01/2007
Genre: Nonfiction
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 368 pages - 978-0-06-133827-4
Ebook - 368 pages - 978-0-06-133845-8
Open Ebook - 368 pages - 978-0-06-133824-3
Paperback - 355 pages - 978-0-06-085950-3
Ebook - 368 pages - 978-0-06-174489-1
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