Synopses & Reviews
"We think of our version of a happy life as more like physics than like pop songs; we expect the people of the next century to agree with our basic tenets—for instance, that broccoli is good for a happy life and that opium is bad—but they will not. Our rules for living are more like the history of pop songs. They make weird sense only to the people of each given time period. They aren't true. This book shows you how past myths functioned, and likewise how our myths of today function, and thus lets you out of the trap of thinking you have to pay heed to any of them."
The Happiness Myth is a fascinating cultural history that both reveals our often silly assumptions about how we pursue happiness today and offers up real historical lessons that have stood the test of time. Hecht delivers memorable insights into the five practical means we choose to achieve happiness: wisdom, drugs, money, bodies, and celebration.
Hecht liberates us from today's scolding, quasi-scientific messages that insist there is only one way to care for our minds and bodies. Hecht looks at contemporary happiness advice and explains why much of it doesn't work. "Modern culture," she writes, "is misrepresenting me and spending a lot of money to do it."
Rich with hilarious anecdotes about both failed and successful paths to happiness, Hecht's book traces a common thread of advice—she calls it "sour charm wisdom"—that we can still apply today to create authentic, lasting happiness.
"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.) " Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
“Deep and thoughtful.” Michael Shermer, Scientific American
“Hechts curiosity ranges widely, and the breadth of her learning is impressive… Fresh and daring analysis.” Washington Post
“Among the raft of happiness books published lately, this one is the obvious standout. I suggest climbing aboard.” Cleveland Plain Dealer
Historian Hecht looks at contemporary happiness advice and, with a newfound historical perspective, liberates readers from the scolding, quasi-scientific messages that insist there is a formula for happiness and offers real lessons that have stood the test of time.
About the Author
Jennifer Michael Hecht is a philosopher, historian, and award-winning poet. She is the author of Doubt: A History and The End of the Soul; the latter won the Phi Beta Kappa Society's 2004 Ralph Waldo Emerson Award. Hecht's books of poetry include The Next Ancient World and Funny. She earned her Ph.D. in history from Columbia University and teaches at The New School in New York City.