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The Happiness Fantasy

The Happiness Fantasy

Carl Cederström

ISBN: 978-1-509-52381-8 November 2018 Polity 200 Pages


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In this devastatingly witty new book, Carl Cederström traces our present-day conception of happiness from its roots in early-twentieth-century European psychiatry, to the Beat generation, to Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. He argues that happiness is now defined by a desire to be "authentic", to experience physical pleasure, and to cultivate a quirky individuality. But over the last fifty years, these once-revolutionary ideas have been co-opted by corporations and advertisers, pushing us to live lives that are increasingly unfulfilling, insecure and narcissistic.

In an age of increasing austerity and social division, Cederström argues that a radical new dream of happiness is gathering pace. There is a vision of the good life which promotes deeper engagement with the world and our place within it, over the individualism and hedonism of previous generations. Guided by this more egalitarian worldview, we can reinvent ourselves and our societies.

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  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • 1 The Birth of the Happiness Fantasy: In Bed with Wilhelm Reich
  • 2 Compulsory Narcissism: Happiness in an Age of Precariousness
  • 3 Happiness Inc.: The Corporate Takeover of the Happiness Fantasy
  • 4 Happiness Drugs: From Space-Age Mysticism to Productivity Enhancement
  • 5 Pleasure: A Distinctly Male Fantasy
  • Conclusion: Happiness after Trump
  • Notes
‘With compelling clarity, wit, and wisdom, Carl Cederström cuts through the disabling illusions ceaselessly promoting the personal pursuit of happiness, offering instead an altogether richer, more compassionate, embrace of life and its vicissitudes.’
Lynne Segal, author of Radical Happiness: Moments of Collective Joy

‘In this lively and acerbic book, Carl Cederström provides a compelling history of how a particular psychoanalytic ideal of happiness sucked us in, promising total fulfilment but ultimately trapping us in a lie.’
Will Davies, Goldsmiths, University of London

‘A wonderful piece of work.’
Simon Critchley, New School for Social Research

‘Happiness is big business – and big politics – these days. But as Cederström reveals in this sharp and engaging book, its recent history can be disturbing. Combining humour with a much-needed scepticism, he shows that in a world of happiness, not all is smiles.’
Darrin M. McMahon, author of Happiness: A History

"Pleasure was at the heart of the liberation struggles of the 1960s’ but has morphed into  a new form of ideology and tyranny, fed by the capitalist logic of incessant consumption. The happy self is not only a fantasy, an imperative to fulfill our potential,  but also the impulse behind a wide variety of economic enterprises, orgasmic workshops, drugs, therapies, etc. Cedertrom’s The Happiness Fantasy is a well-written, lively, and critical study of the fantasy that has wormed inside the core of our culture."
Eva Illouz, Hebrew University of Jerusalem