Happiness in America: A Cultural History

Lawrence R. Samuel. Rowman & Littlefield, $32 (190p) ISBN 978-1-5381-1579-4
Samuel (The American Way of Life) examines nearly a century of study on the unique American conception of happiness in this meditative history. Pointing out that happiness was deemed so significant that it was codified into the Declaration of Independence, Samuel takes capitalism, fluctuations in the American economy, and individualism vs. a communal spirit as fundamental reference points. In the post-WWII era, he recounts, Americans learned that materialism was not conducive to happiness and “it could not be acquired on a lay-away plan like a new Frigidaire or Studebaker.” The 1980s–90s saw a rampant increase in the use of antidepressants; more recent developments include apps and social media campaigns designed to spark joy. He also notes gendered happiness considerations; contemporary concerns about “having it all” date back to the 1950s, when women started entering the workforce in large numbers. In addition to chronicling the self-help genre, Samuel summarizes psychology and sociology insights for a lay audience. Samuel does not exactly land on a prescription for happiness, but instructive commonalities and patterns emerge. This study will interest readers interested in American culture, and Americans both enamored and skeptical of self-help. (Nov.)
Reviewed on : 01/03/2019
Release date: 11/01/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 200 pages - 978-1-5381-1577-0
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