The Happiness Fantasy Book Summary - The Happiness Fantasy Book explained in key points
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The Happiness Fantasy summary

Carl Cederström

A history of happiness

3.8 (56 ratings)
34 mins

Brief summary

"The Happiness Fantasy" by Carl Cederström explores how the pressure to be happy has become an oppressive and unrealistic cultural norm. It argues that we need to embrace a more realistic and nuanced approach to happiness that allows for sadness, pain, and complexity.

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    The Happiness Fantasy
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    The happiness fantasy provides people with a template for living the good life.

    When you create a new document in a word processor, you start with two basic options: a blank page or a template. If you choose the latter, you’re furnished with a prefabricated design for the newsletter, brochure or whatever you want to make. The general layout is already established; you just have to fill in the outlines with your particular content.

    Similarly, the happiness fantasy provides you with a template for living the good life. Thanks to this template, you don’t have to come up with your own blueprint for constructing an enjoyable, meaningful human existence. It’s already been supplied by the culture in which you’ve been raised, and all you have to do is follow it.

    The central component of the template is the concept of self-actualization. The idea here is that you have a true inner potential – a set of capabilities for thinking, feeling, desiring and doing things. These capabilities constitute your true inner self – a sort of intangible core at the center of your personhood.

    Around this core, you accumulate a variety of extraneous elements in the course of living your life: misguided beliefs, unhealthy emotions, self-limiting inhibitions and destructive patterns of behavior. As they crust over you like a shell, these elements obscure and obstruct your inner potential, leaving you with just the scab-like shell to present to the outside world. This is your inauthentic self.

    By shedding the shell of this inauthentic external self, reconnecting with your true inner self and releasing the concealed capabilities lying dormant within it, you thereby actualize yourself. In other words, you turn the potentiality of your true inner self into an external reality.

    In doing so, you also become authentic, since your outward self is now an accurate reflection, expression and manifestation of your inward self. And, as your no-longer-obstructed self comes pouring out into the world, you also experience pleasure, which is the positive sensation you feel when you exercise and gratify your inner self’s capabilities and desires.

    So there you have it: actualize your true inner potential, authentically express your true inner self and seek the pleasures that come with doing so. That’s the happiness fantasy’s template for the good life.

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    What is The Happiness Fantasy about?

    The Happiness Fantasy (2018) advances a provocative thesis, encapsulated in its title: our contemporary ideas about happiness amount to a fantasy that’s increasingly out of sync with reality and unable to deliver what it promises. By taking a whirlwind tour of the history of this fantasy, we can begin to see through its illusions.

    The Happiness Fantasy Review

    The Happiness Fantasy (2019) by Carl Cederström challenges our obsession with happiness and explores why trying to be happy all the time may not be the key to a fulfilled life. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Offers a fresh perspective on happiness, encouraging readers to question societal expectations and redefine what truly matters in life.
    • Backed by extensive research and case studies, it provides a thought-provoking exploration into the negative effects of our relentless pursuit of happiness.
    • With its candid and insightful analysis, the book sheds light on the complexities of human emotions, offering a more nuanced understanding of happiness and well-being.

    Who should read The Happiness Fantasy?

    • People who are interested in the countercultural movements and philosophies of the 1960s and 1970s
    • People who are skeptical of self-help books and seminars
    • People who are burned out by the invasion of work life into leisure time

    About the Author

    Carl Cederström is an associate professor of organization studies at the Stockholm Business School of Stockholm University. He is the coauthor of Dead Man Working (2013), The Wellness Syndrome (2015) and Desperately Seeking Self-Improvement: A Year Inside the Optimization Movement (2018). He has also written articles for a variety of publications including the Guardian, the Washington Post, New Scientist and Harvard Business Review.

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    The Happiness Fantasy FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Happiness Fantasy?

    The main message of The Happiness Fantasy is that the pursuit of happiness can be problematic and lead to dissatisfaction.

    How long does it take to read The Happiness Fantasy?

    The reading time for The Happiness Fantasy varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Happiness Fantasy a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Happiness Fantasy is worth reading for its critical examination of society's obsession with happiness and its insights into the dark side of self-improvement.

    Who is the author of The Happiness Fantasy?

    The author of The Happiness Fantasy is Carl Cederström.