“America the Anxious” Explains Why Our Happiness is So Worrisome

My doctor told me I should consider anti-depressants. Not because I’m depressed, but because I’m so anxious all the time. Apparently Prozac fixes everything. Coincidentally, two weeks later I was pitched to review the new book “America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervious Wrecks.” The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

America the Anxious Explores Our Happiness Obession


Everyone has this image of the carefree, full-time RVer. Maybe that’s applicable to the retired baby boomer living off a fat retirement savings account. As for Jim and me, our reality is quite different. We don’t have the luxury of kicking back (yet). Our long work days are filled with many of the same stressors as many people.

Will we have enough money for old age? How are we going to afford it?
Am I making my client happy? Am I producing quality work?
Am I spending enough time on my passions?
Do I work out enough for good health?
Do I show enough attention to the dog? Is my dog happy?

As we sit here camped with a friend who takes a more laid-back approach to life than we do, I wonder why it is that he can be so non-chalant about things. Me? Well, I worry. So it was with great interest that I was comped an issue of this new book by Ruth Whippman.

Whippman is a snarky British writer who migrated to the U.S. and was quickly ambushed with what she terms the American “happiness industrial complex.” It’s a fitting term, and one that I can proudly say got Jim and I to ditch our old sticks-and-bricks lifestyle. As we pursued happiness with our Jerry while he fought cancer, the only thing on our minds was following Eckhart Tolle’s advice to live in the moment. But once Jerry passed on, life got more serious. Today we’re happier than ever, yet ironically I worry more than ever. Is it my fault? Why can’t I worry less even though I feel happier on most days? Is it the roads we travel? Our rig?

RVing, full-time, road, hill, steep, travel

What? Me worry on this road?

Whippman explains why the ideal state of happiness always seems so elusive to me and millions of others:

“The more I immerse myself in the Great American Happiness Machine in all its vicarious incarnations, from mindful dishwashing to Tony Robbins, Eckhart Tolle to the Oprah Magazine, the more I realize that once you get past the fist pumping and the platitudes, there’s a steely and anxiety-inducing underlying threat to the message. . . .

There is only one thing that has the power to make you happy, and that is . . . YOU! . . . the flip side of this logic is that if I am not happy, then it is All My Own Fault.”

Studies cited in the book show that the more we pursue happiness, the more anxious, stressed and lonely we become. It’s a vicious cycle and one that I never realized affected me until this book landed in my hands (thanks St. Martin’s Press!).

Don’t Be Fooled by Shiny, Happy Full-time RVers

Why would anyone question the happiness industrial complex? Isn’t it doing everyone good by ensuring we’re all in pursuit of an “enlightened” state? Obviously not. According to Whippman’s research, American spend more money, time and effort on finding happiness than any other country on the planet, but we’re one of the least happy countries in the developed world!

The young, shiny, happy full-time RVers on Instagram all have us fooled. They look so happy don’t they? Odds are, however, that they haven’t found the keys to happiness simply by living the full-timing lifestyle. More than likely, those travelers are just as stressed out and anxious as anyone living a traditional lifestyle. They just work harder at hiding their worry.

My friend on the other hand, chooses to stay disconnect from the Instagrammed world that has us believing everyone is far happier than ourselves. Clearly, my friend’s lack of involvement in social media has much to do with how happy and relaxed he always seems. Is that the secret? Hmmm…

Please put down your iPhone and grab a hard copy of this funny, witty book. Drag yourself away from connectivity for a few hours and learn why the secret to happiness isn’t found in a pill, a device or a lifestyle — it’s only obtained by severing your reliance on the self-help section of Amazon and building real connections with good people in real life.

 

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6 Responses to ““America the Anxious” Explains Why Our Happiness is So Worrisome”

  1. Hmm. Maybe RV or van life ain’t necessarily the path to happiness. Maybe the path to happiness is learning not to give a damn. For some, the result of not giving a damn is simplifying your life to please yourself. And *that* could mean going on the road. Or not. One size does not fit all.

  2. Hi Rene,

    Another great book recommendation. I read, actually listened to another book you blogged about, Life Reimagined by Barbara Bradley Hagerty. I loved that book and another fellow librarian who, like me, just turned 60 is now reading it.

    I am so disappointed that full-time RVing did not eliminate your anxiety! I’m teasing since I have recently realized that the habit of anxiety is probably something I will be carrying with me into retirement and beyond. I have probably been anxious since childhood and just now noticed when work issues brought my anxiety level up to the Red Zone. The work issues have changed and I also sought the help of a therapist who introduced me to tapping or EFT which means “Emotional Freedom Technique”. It is a way to use the energy centers or meridians in the body to help with emotions. Here is a YouTube video, which can be a jumping off place if you are interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZETUX1dom4 I personally have not explored this or other YouTubes since the technique the therapist gave me is working. Better than xanax!

    I love that Ruth Whippman observed The American Happiness Industrial Complex! And it is all our faults if we aren’t happy! I was with a Guru in my Youth (yes, I have had a very interesting life) who taught that by the very search for Happiness we are unhappy. I think about The Secret and all those self help ideas who say, if you visualize it, It will come. I personally think there is a vein of truth in all of it but self help simplifies the ideas and encourages us to focus so much energy into the vision. There is so much around the ideals of success and happiness…so much that goes into the Life, that I think we can make ourselves crazy just in the pursuit of it all.

    Let me know if this is too stalkerly coming from a blog follower? Are you and Jim still in Sacramento? Would you like to meet my husband, Roger and me this coming Monday for dinner? He is a truck driver and will be home sometime Sunday and we both are off from work on Monday. I haven’t even asked Roger if he would like to meet a pair of full-timers who blog but I thought I would reach out and try. We are planning to full time RV in a couple years when retire as a librarian. We will still need to pull in some kind of income beyond my pension since I’ve only been a librarian 10 years. We just bought our first RV and will be taking it out on our first big trip in three weeks. We are going to Central Texas to spend Thanksgiving with family.

    If you and Jim are interested in dinner or even lunch on Monday (Oct. 24), please use my email address and we can make further plans. We live up the hill in the Foothills from Sacramento.

    • Terri thanks for listening to Barb’s book (I’ll bet she did an awesome job on the audio version, I love her voice!). I’m so glad you enjoyed it. If you read this one, I hope you find Whippman’s book just as interesting as I did. Never before did I realize what you were fortunate enough to learn at a young age. This book helped me to see it. How I wish I had my own guru at various points in my life. Neat!

      You are so kind to offer the invitation for dinner, thank you. We’ve often met with other current and future RVers on the road and at some point we’d love to meet up with you. We’re not in Sacramento anymore however, now we’re on to Vegas then Southern CA. I’ll keep your location in mind for next time though! Thanks again and I hope your trip to TX is a lot of fun! Enjoy, your full-timing future is just around the corner.

  3. Rene, As full timers with a mailing address in SD, we were very interested in learning about how to become Texans. For example, do you have to physically go to Texas or can you handle everything electronically?
    Also, we are looking to get a newer fifth wheel as ours is 1994. Last year we bought a newer truck and were able to avoid paying sales tax by using a friend’s Oregon address. Now, however, the RV agent tells me that because we have Arizona driver’s licenses we have to use Arizona as our home state and therefore pay the sales tax. We assume if we were to buy an RV from a private owner we wouldn’t have to pay sales tax but we want a warranty thus a dealer. Anyway, we would appreciate your advice. Thanks!

    • Hi Vernon, thanks for reading and commenting. The best place to get your domicile questions answered is here on the Escapees website, but in our experience we didn’t have to go to Texas to become residents, however it made things much easier. Take the trip, it’s a good one and you might end up loving the Lone Star state as much as we do! Regarding the sales tax issues. Unfortunately the RV sales guy is right. We learned that when we traveled to Oregon (a tax free state) to get our first Arctic Fox. We left without paying sales tax but upon registering it with the California DMV, we got hit with the state’s fat sales tax. Apparently wherever you will register the vehicle is where you pay the tax. We went through that again when getting our second Arctic Fox. It was purchased in Wyoming but registered in TX, so we paid TX sales tax. It bites, but it’s the law. Good luck in acquiring your new home!

      • Oh another reason to make the trek to Texas for registering…the Polk County government is very familiar with Escapees and extremely helpful in getting your paperwork processed. Plus if you have any questions, someone at the Escapees HQ can answer your questions right away.

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