... a dreamer, freelance writer, massage therapist, naturopath, mother & drop-out social work student living, working and writing in the Blue Mountains. When not occupied with the real world, she writes fantasy.
Published May 14th 2013
Why the pursuit of happiness doesn't work
In search of the land of happiness - elusive and not the point of life.
Book Review: The Good Life: What Makes a Life Worth Living Author: Hugh Mackay
There was sure to be a back-lash eventually against all that hyper-commercialism around chasing happiness and 'the good life'. If you feel like you have everything in life but aren't happy, this very well could be the book for you. Even if you don't, you need to read what is possibly one of the most important social commentaries in recent years.
Respected social researcher, newspaper columnist, novelist and professor of social science, Hugh Mackay, joins a growing list of anti-happiness theorists advocating that all this striving for an ideal life may not be good for us. Mackay's book came about as a result of over 40 years of studying Australians and addresses some of the key things that are currently wrong with our society.
According to Mackay, life in wealthy, industrialised societies, creates an illusion of a readily attainable utopian life and places pressure on individuals to live up to some idealised concept of what it is to be human. This includes the pressure we, and others, place on ourselves to always feel good.
As Mackay states, we aspire to be model parents, plan perfect holidays, enjoy fantastic weekends, age well, have satisfying marriages, exhilarating sex, fulfilling work and nothing less. What he calls "Me Brand" marketing and the "Utopia Complex" creates a selfish society, but also sets us up for failure, frustration, confusion, disappointment and estrangement from our own community. The idea that we can totally plan and manufacture our own lives is a myth.
While deep down we know the beauty and importance of helping others, it's hard not to be drawn into the hyperbole taught to us by our society and our parents, not to mention the little voice within that is always striving after its own needs.
Mackay explores alternative models for living life. The roots of a good life rest in connecting with others and making ourselves useful to our society. The worth of our lives does not lie in wealth, status, achievement or how happy we are. Ultimately, we will find more genuine happiness in being involved with others and less in self-absorption and chasing the fleeting bird of happiness.
Of particular relevance to modern parents, Mackay's book warns of the consequences of pushing the "Utopian Complex" onto our over-parented, over-praised and over-indulged children.
Mackay concludes that "we learn very little from happiness." His book is a warning to us all not to sell ourselves short or fall for the lies we are sold about happiness. With inherently spiritual overtones, he postulates that 'good times', 'doing well' in life or superficial emotional happiness does not necessarily make for a good life.
As he says at the end of the book: 'No one can promise you that a life lived for others will bring you a deep sense of satisfaction, but it's certain that nothing else will.'
The Good Life: What Makes a Life Worth Living is published by Pan Macmillan and was released in May 2013.