The Pursuit of Happiness - Britmums Book Club book review
by Ruth Whippman was the latest Britmums book club read. Overall it was a fascinating, enjoyable and at times funny book. Probably not the most diplomatic way to do this but I had just a few niggles and negatives so I will get those out the way straight away so that I can go on to focus on the many positives of the book. So bear with me as there was lots about it that I did like.
What I didn't like...
The book seems to have taken me forever to read as there wasn't enough page turning content. It was great for dipping in and out of but nothing so pressing or engaging to keep me coming back to read more.
I found myself confused about how seriously to take this book. There is no doubt in my mind that a lot of research has gone into it. Many studies and publications have been reviewed to feed into it. There are some serious issues discussed in the book including mental health, depression and suicide. And yet there is humour and jokes scattered throughout and I personally struggled with this. I would have preferred the tone to be either humorous throughout or serious throughout. Having bits of both left me confused.
I felt a lot of repetition - from very early on, I could sense where the conclusion was going to lead and the same themes kept coming up. Whilst that must be what the author found as she researched this topic, it felt rather repetitive to me as the reader.
Final negative... I didn't like the cover. Again I found it confused. Was this a serious book or a funny book? I think I would have preferred a smarter, more sophisticated looking book cover.
Now onto the many things I did enjoy about this book. It is absolutely not a "self-help" style book and indeed a large chunk of the book is devoted to questioning the self-help industry and the role it plays in the pursuit of happiness.
There is much interesting and hugely fascinating research mentioned in the book, some eye-opening statistics as well as the authors own experiences, including both planned case study style observations and natural observations about her life and experiences.
I enjoyed the cultural comparisons that were bound to occur when a British journalist moves to America and tries to settle into a new way of life there.
The case study of Zappos, an American company adopting 'fun' at the heart of all it does as their (highly manipulated) choice of organisational culture reminded me of all the business case studies that I used to read back in my university days. It also revealed a darker side that can be uncovered when happiness becomes such a priority over and above the actual wellbeing of employees. A similar story played out in some of the other cases that Whippman looks at with high rates of depression going hand in hand with high rates of happiness as people feel forced to hide their true feelings when they are feeling low and aren't able to express the full range of natural human emotions.
I LOVED the chapter on social media and how that is impacting people's lives and personally I would have loved to see more on this topic. I think there is a whole study just waiting to be done on the social media phenomenon and I would even throw blogging into the mix as I have my own theories as to why these things have taken off in the way they have done.
Then, towards the end of the book, on page 251 we come across a few short sentences that for me hold a huge story within them which went totally unexplored..."Then I realise. The product isn't happiness. It's hope."
That is a key gem in this whole book and it feels a missed opportunity to have explored and re-explored 'happiness' throughout the book, then to come across this potentially huge piece of the happiness jigsaw and just carry on without giving it further regard.
If you are looking for a book that will make you think, laugh, ponder, reflect, and then laugh a bit more, this is a good read.
You can see what others thought of this book on Britmums Bookclub here.
Disclosure: I was sent a copy of this book for the purpose of review. All opinions are my own.