The Happiness Fantasy Book Summary By Carl Cederström

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The Happiness Fantasy, written by author Anna Lappé in 2018, offers an honest and captivating exploration of how our current ideas about happiness might actually be a fantasy.

The book takes readers on an illuminating tour of the history of this idea that has become so entrenched in modern society.

By delving into history, we can gain a greater understanding of how this fantasy affects the way we think and feel, and ultimately create a better future.

In this work, Lappé encourages readers to look beyond the allure of popular culture's 'happiness' promises and search for real satisfaction in life.

The Happiness Fantasy Book

Book Name: The Happiness Fantasy (A history of happiness)

Author(s): Carl Cederström

Rating: 3.8/5

Reading Time: 34 Minutes

Categories: History

Author Bio

Carl Cederström is an esteemed professor and writer who specializes in organizational studies at the Stockholm Business School.

He's the co-author of Dead Man Working (2013), The Wellness Syndrome (2015) and Desperately Seeking Self-Improvement: A Year Inside the Optimization Movement (2018).

Additionally, his work has been featured in a variety of publications such as The Guardian, Washington Post, New Scientist, and Harvard Business Review.

If you're looking for another great read from one of academia's leading figures, look no further than Carl Cederström's latest book, The Happiness Fantasy.

Exploring The Dubious History And Perils Of The Happiness Fantasy

Happiness Fantasy

The Happiness Fantasy Book Summary takes a deep dive into the strange origins of our current ideas about happiness.

It explores how, throughout the centuries, people have tried to answer the fundamental question: How do you achieve happiness? By looking at philosophical texts, religious creeds, psychological therapies, pharmaceutical products and self-help books, this book attempts to deconstruct one of the most prevalent answers in modern Western culture – what’s called the “happiness fantasy”.

In this book you will find out some of the strange origins behind this fantasy.

For instance, you’ll read about an influential psychological theory that placed orgasms at the pinnacle of human existence, or a supposedly miraculous device that could cure all diseases and even a motivational speech that started with its audience being called “assholes”.

Ultimately, these stories show us how our understanding of what makes us happy has been shaped by external forces over time.

The Happiness Fantasy Gives Us A Template For Living The Good Life

The Happiness Fantasy provides people with a foolproof roadmap for living the good life.

Through self-actualization, it encourages individuals to develop and express their true inner potential.

This process begins by understanding and shedding all of the destructive elements that are obscuring one’s inner self, entrapping it within a hard shell.

Once those are removed, an individual can experience the thrilling sensation of authenticity as they tap into their own innate capabilities and fulfill their most secret desires.

Instead of having to create your own plan for success, you can use The Happiness Fantasy as a guiding light and ultimate source of pleasure in life.

It supplies all the necessary steps for truly experiencing fulfillment and joy – from recognizing your inauthentic self to unlocking your potential through release from its constraints.

Thus any individual can draw upon this template to cultivate peace and satisfaction on their journey of personal growth.

The Unconventional Life Of Wilhelm Reich: The Man Behind The Happiness Fantasy Of The California Counterculture

The ideas behind the happiness fantasy have an unexpected story, which starts with Wilhelm Reich.

He was an Austrian psychoanalyst who had an early interest in sexuality triggered by a series of childhood encounters.

At the age of five, he was caught pleasuring his brother’s nursemaid.

When he was ten years old, he caught his mother having extramarital relations with his tutor and at eleven eventually losing his virginity to their family chef.

At 22 years old, Reich became a part of Sigmund Freud’s inner Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, focusing on building up orgastic potency.

This became more and more important for him and because of it, there were several expulsions from psychoanalysis circles; like from the Berlin and International Psychoanalysis Association as well as leaving Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

Reich then fled Nazi Germany and travelled to the US where he invented a device called the Orgone Accumulator – a wooden box covered in metal aiming to capture “orgone energy” which he claimed has healing properties when absorbed into a person’s body.

The FDA thought otherwise and Reich ended up in prison until he died in 1957 almost totally forgotten by society.

However, even if they could never know it, his ideas found a new home decades later in California during the 60s-70s counterculture movements

Wilhelm Reich’s Ideas Of Pleasure, Sexual Liberation And Political Freedom Resonate With Countercultural Movements

Wilhelm Reich's

Wilhelm Reich’s writings held much appeal for the Californian hipsters of the late 1940s and 1950s.

In their eyes, his work provided a deep insight into human nature, particularly in terms of suppressing desire.

His ideas were rooted in an anti-authoritarian message, emphasizing the need to reject any restriction the family or state put on people’s freedom.

By this logic, pleasures such as consumerism only provide superficial satisfaction, while true joy comes from creating and actively earning experiences.

For Reich, orgasmic sex was at the pinnacle of this pleasurable experience – however he also believed that sexual liberation was interconnected with political liberation.

This view resonated with these young left-wing bohemians and acted as an impetus towards countercultural movements such as hippies.

How Wilhelm Reich’S Ideas Spawned The Human Potential Movement In 1960S California

When people think of Big Sur, California, they often picture the beautiful landscape or the multi-faceted art scene.

Little do they know that this area has been an epicenter for revolutionary ideas since the mid-twentieth century.

In 1957, Henry Miller settled in Big Sur and brought with him some of his own ideas about sexualityism which began to appeal to the bohemians in the area.

Many of these new concepts were quite radical for this time period and involved combining uninhibited sexuality with a broader concept of eroticism which was based on reaching a higher level of cosmic harmony with nature – usually through drugs.

The early 1960s saw an explosion in psychedelic drug use and soon enough, there were seminars held at Esalen Institute about “Drug-Induced Mysticism”.

Here, notable names such as Alan Watts, Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers convened, and their ideas solidified what would become known as the human potential movement.

But perhaps one of most influential members was psychiatrist Fritz Perls who had previously been a disciple of Wilhelm Reich.

Big Sur quickly became synonymous with open sex practices combined with drug-induced mysticism: both symbols of rebellion after years of conformity and traditional values kept alive by previous generations.

How Fritz Perls’ Gestalt Therapy Encouraged People To Find Their Authentic Selves

The ideas of the happiness fantasy without a doubt had their test run at the Esalen Institute under psychoanalyst Fritz Perls.

Perls was a firm believer in Gestalt therapy – an approach to psychotherapy whereby life is viewed like a theatrical production and humans have the choice of following someone else’s ‘script’ or taking charge of their own performance.

At the institute, he would often engage participants in what he called “sitting on the hot seat” – during which they were encouraged to release their inner selves by sharing dreams and acting them out, no matter how intense the emotions got.

Through this process, Perls hoped patients could be made aware of their true nature and gain greater self-awareness and self-healing through authentic self-expression.

Perls’ efforts shaped much of the later trend in self-development training centers that sprung up around America in the 1960s and 1970s, as this form of psychological training reached more mainstream audiences with commercial flair.

This continued until Werner Erhard took over and further developed these ideas yet again with his own brand of seminars and trainings in 1971.

The Rise Of Werner Erhard And His Controversial Impact On The Human Potential Movement

Werner Erhard

Werner Erhard was a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman in San Francisco who embraced the ideas of the human potential movement and the Esalen Institute around him.

He took bits and pieces from various sources like Fritz Perls, Alan Watts, and books from the 1930s such as Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich.

Erhard fused the spiritual exploration and philosophies of these sources with training methods learned from Scientology along with his own instinctual interest in business success.

Through this combination, Werner created a training program known as Erhard Seminar Training or “est” that generated dramatic results.

He encouraged others to pursue their material goals while still paying attention to their inner development.

Over 700,000 people attended Erhard’s training during the course of its two decades, having their views changed about personal success versus spiritual enlightenment.

Erhard’S Est Training Seminar: Verbal Abuse And Extremely Intense Emotional Experiences For Breaking Through Psychological Armor

Werner Erhard’s training seminars weren’t your typical ‘hippy-dippy’ affair – they were known for being both physically and emotionally challenging.

At the seminars, each session lasted 15 to 19 hours and participants weren’t allowed to eat or get up from their chairs, even if they had to urinate.

On top of this, participants were subjected to long verbal abuse-laden tirades from Erhard himself.

However, lurking beneath these intense tactics was something deeper.

In his long lectures, Erhard preached a message of an all-powerful self that exists under our psychological armor.

He believed that we can accomplish anything if we try hard enough, which could be described as having an optimistic side despite its darkness.

The limits of what one can achieve according to him are only set by our own will and effort, so success is not something unattainable – anyone can succeed!

The Consequences Of The Mentality That Success Is Just A Matter Of Effort

The messages of Werner Erhard, founder of the self-development organization formerly known as est and now Landmark Worldwide, remain influential to this day.

This is especially true when it comes to his logic of personal responsibility, which holds that anyone can accomplish anything if they try hard enough – and failure means they simply didn’t try hard enough.

Unfortunately, this type of thinking can lead to victim-blaming and a lack of compassion for people going through hardships.

For example, while Oprah Winfrey doesn’t go as far as Erhard in drawing conclusions about suffering being caused solely by individual will power, her messages have striking similarities.

On her show she has encouraged audience members going through difficult times to let go of their “victim mentality” and embrace inner power.

Though Oprah’s intention may be to inspire people by reminding them of their own potential, the underlying logic behind her words still reflects Erhard’s view that a person is completely responsible for everything that happens to them – good or bad.

As a result, social issues can become individual problems and those who are disadvantaged in society might be seen without sympathy or understanding.

It’s no wonder why many influential celebrities like Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand and Cher have all been attracted to Erhard’s training programs over the years!

But unfortunately his message lives on through its subtle pervasiveness in our culture today – leading not only to occasional victim-blaming but also enabling an even bigger problem: A lack of compassion for those facing difficulties.

How The Human Potential Movement Went From Radical Politics To Corporate Renewal

Human Potential

By the 1980s, the human potential movement had evolved from its hippy roots to a more corporate-minded agenda.

Instead of emphasizing socialist and anarchist philosophies, members were now pursuing individualistic goals and interests.

This was largely due to the fact that businesses were interested in incorporating self-development training into their operations for capitalism’s benefit.

The focus on material success within the capitalist system replaced much of the radical political views that had come before it.

The members of this movement retained their individualistic outlook yet shifted away from espousing communal solidarity, thus more in line with capitalism than socialism or anarchism.

Consequently, many major corporations soon followed suit and heavily invested in workshops led by Erhard’s Forum and other similar organizations.

Even the Esalen Institute got involved as they began hosting corporate retreats.

This marks an important shift from its role as an epicenter for counterculture during the 1970s.

Clearly, this wave of commercialization had a significant impact not only on those associated with this movement but also to society at large.

The Corporations’ Clever Co-Opting Of Countercultural Values

Beginning in the 1970s, American corporations began to integrate ideas of the human potential movement into their own corporate culture.

This was in response to employees’ increasing dissatisfaction with wages and hours that were stagnating while employees worked longer hours.

Younger members of the workforce had been raised in an era saturated with countercultural and rebellious messages, which gave them a suspicion of large corporations and their associated values (such as conformity and status quo).

Therefore, corporations had to address this challenge by crafting new strategies: firstly, they could attempt to improve working wages and conditions – or alternatively, try to adopt “authenticity”, “freedom” and other values propagated by the human potential movement.

Predictably, corporations chose the latter route; the language of self-actualisation started appearing in boardrooms and company reports.

Videotex Corporation even declared its role was to enable people “to live their lives for maximum growth”.

Today, it is very common for companies to embrace opportunities for self-fulfilment within their corporate structure.

For example, retail giant Zappos has carved out a special place for what it calls ‘fun weirdness’: coffee machines shaped like robots; pirate costume attire; bowling alleys; karaoke competitions; petting zoos – you name it!

Corporate culture books celebrate these activities as part of workplace norms.

Allowing individual expression and pleasure-seeking activities have become regular occurrences within many workplaces – though whether this is completely beneficial is worthy of consideration.

The Happiness Fantasy: How Companies Are Blending Work And Life, Leaving Us Caught Between Self-Actualization And Market Demands

Happiness Fantasy

The fusion of the Happiness Fantasy with corporate culture is deeply problematic and increasingly untenable as companies seek to promote a culture of ‘work/life integration’, blurring the lines between people’s home lives and professional lives.

This means that work and leisure time become fused into one nonstop continuum of exhausting activity, with 38% of remote workers reporting that they check their emails at least once in the middle of the night.

Additionally, individuals are encouraged to both pursue their personal interests while simultaneously conforming to the demands of the job market in order to acquire skills and pedigrees that will make them stand out.

However, this is an impossible contradiction making it difficult to authentically pursue self-actualization or joy when people are scrambling just to find employment.

Overall, these factors reveal the Happiness Fantasy for what it truly is: a fantasy.

Wrap Up

The Happiness Fantasy shows us the difficult truth – the pursuit of individual happiness, a long sought-after dream, has many contradictions and shortcomings that make it increasingly hard to sustain.

That is why it is important to consider alternative paths to collective well being.

The book provides an indication towards a path based on socialist and anarchist vision of society which include communal solidarity, resource-sharing, and mutual aid.

Ultimately, each person must search for the solution that works best for them in order to find true happiness.

This book offers one more key bit of advice: when considering alternatives to the happiness fantasy, think about how you can work out some of the details of how your chosen path could be pursued.

Our decisions begin with our thoughts by examining what we want most out of life.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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