America the Anxious
"Our families are over from London for Zeph's bris, the formal
circumcision ceremony that Jewish boys go through on their eighth day
of life. I am love-addled and exhausted, still bleeding, oozing
hormones and inexplicably weeping at laundry detergent commercials.
Barely more than a week ago, this longed-for baby was still inside my
body. In approximately ten minutes time, a stranger will come to our
house and sever a section from his penis. I profoundly do not want to
Ruth Whippman has an addictive voice: candid and direct with an
overlay of British dry humor. She had me at the first paragraph of
America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness Is Creating a Nation
of Nervous Wrecks. She talks about trying to think of something
appropriate to say to the gynecologist who was about to do a Pap
smear. Anyone who can discuss that delicate situation with aplomb is,
in my mind, read worthy.
Whippman, a journalist and filmmaker, followed her husband to
the States so he could take on a new job. Going from working to
becoming an at home mother, she felt lonely and displaced. She found
herself more than a little perplexed by her adopted nation's strange
"It seems as though happiness in America has become the
overachiever's ultimate trophy. A modern trump card, it outranks
professional achievement and social success, family, friendship, and
even love. Its invocation deftly minimizes others' achievements
('Well, I suppose she has the perfect job and a gorgeous husband, but
is she really happy?') and takes the shine off our own."
Whippman discovered that the pursuit of happiness in America has
spawned a multi billion dollar industry with a focus on the
individualized pursuit. We are to look into ourselves, rather than to
friends and communities. This did not make sense to her. Researchers
had discovered that people who were much happier than others had
quality relationships and spent more time socializing and less time
alone than others.
Whippman went on a quest to discover the thinking behind the
pursuit of the American holy Grail. She spent scads of money to go to
a three day retreat where she was told that her lack of happiness was
all her fault. A corporporate conference in California left her
unenlightened. At a planned utopian entrepreneurial community in
Nevada there was an unexpectedly high suicide rate.
I'd advise readers to join Whippman on her quest. You'll laugh
a lot, learn a lot, get much food for thought, and probably never look
at America's obsessive pursuit in quite the same way.
On a personal note, I went through a lonely stretch. The early years
of parenting three lively children and some volunteering and activism
on the side totally absorbed me. As the kids grew up and spent more
time away I became very aware of my nonbelongingness in a town with
much social snobbery. I felt like Rapunzel in her tower. Things
began to change for the better when I discovered my tribe at UMaine.
Now I am incredibly happy because I've found out where I belong.
A great big shout out goes out to all my fine friends in the UMaine
community! We are family!
Sent from my iPod