The Mindful Cranks

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


When British journalist Ruth Whippman moved to the United States, she found herself increasingly perplexed by the American obsession with one topic above all others:  happiness.  The subject came up everywhere: at the playground swings, at the meat counter in the supermarket and even- legs in stirrups- at the gynecologist.

The omnipresence of these happiness conversations (trading tips, humble-bragging successes, offering unsolicited advice) wouldn’t let her go, and so Ruth did some digging.  What she found was a paradox.  Despite the fact that Americans spend more time and money in search of happiness than anyone else on earth, research shows that the United States is one of the least contented, most anxious countries in the developed world.  Stoked by a multi-billion dollar “happiness industrial complex” intent on selling the promise of bliss, American appeared to be driving itself crazy in pursuit of contentment.

Ruth set out to get to the bottom of this contradiction, embarking on an uproarious pilgrimage to investigate how this national obsession infiltrates all areas of life, from religion to parenting, the workplace to social media.  She nearly falls apart psychologically while attending a controversial self-help course that promises total transformation, where she is told that all her problems are all her own fault.  She visits a strange “happiness city” in the Nevada desert and explores why it has one of the highest suicide rates in America; delves into the darker truths behind the influential “positive psychology” movement and ventures to Utah to spend time with the Mormons, officially America’s happiest people.

Hilarious and insightful, Ruth’s discoveries are startling and unexpected from start to finish.

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