From The Washington Post:
If only we’d listened to John Locke. In his Second Treatise of Government, he declared that human beings were entitled only to “life, liberty and” — get ready — “estate.” As in property. Leave it to Mr. Jefferson of Virginia to change that last item in the trinity to “pursuit of happiness.” What he neglected to tell us was that, 230 years later, we would still be pursuing it.
Make even a passing scan of today’s bestseller lists, and you’ll find a veritable happiness racket: titles urging us to start “Living Well” and “Become a Better You” and master “The Secret” and (my personal favorite) be “Happy for No Reason.” Between all the Tony Robbinses and Rick Warrens and Deepak Chopras of the world, happiness is perhaps our last growth industry, and it even has a volunteer sales force. “Smile!” a stranger recently exhorted me on the street. “It can’t be that bad.” To which my only response was: “How do you know?”
Maybe it’s all paying off, though. According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, nearly 85 percent of us believe ourselves to be happy or very happy. All power, then, to Eric G. Wilson for writing a book with the refreshing title Against Happiness. Wilson, an English professor at Wake Forest University, is seriously bummed by the cultural landscape. “Everywhere I see advertisements offering even more happiness, happiness on land or by sea, in a car or under the stars. . . . It seems truly, perhaps more than ever before, an age of almost perfect contentment, a brave new world of persistent good fortune, joy without trouble, felicity with no penalty.” This “overemphasis on happiness at the expense of sadness,” he writes, produces only blandness, conformity, “a dystopia of flaccid grins” fueled by Lexapro and Paxil.