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The Happiness Fantasy

The Happiness Fantasy

Carl Cederström

ISBN: 978-1-509-52384-9

Nov 2017, 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.
  • 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
“Happiness is big business – and big politics – these days. But as Cederstrom shows in this sharp and engaging book, its recent history can be disturbing. Combining humor with a much-needed skepticism, he shows that in a world of
happiness, not all is smiles.”
Darrin M. McMahon, author of Happiness: A History