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The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse Hardcover – November 25, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
- Item Weight : 1.15 pounds
- Hardcover : 400 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0679463038
- ISBN-13 : 978-0679463030
- Product Dimensions : 5.76 x 1.09 x 8.54 inches
- Publisher : Random House; 1st Edition (November 25, 2003)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,890,242 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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1. Things are really good and getting better all the time.
2. Some (much fewer) things aren’t so good, and some (even fewer) things are getting worse.
3. Anyway, the good things aren’t making us happy.
Along the way, he proffers numerous possibilities for why people aren’t happy but none of them are analyzed at length. I didn’t feel any more enlightened than after reading the earlier The Good Life and Its Discontents: The American Dream in the Age of Entitlement ]. In fact, I found more satisfying the few pages in How the Mind Works (pp. 389-393 “The Happiness Treadmill”, and pp. 506-9 on friendship ).
Then, for a few chapters, he presents evidence that people who forgive, have gratitude, and are spiritual are happier. So if we want to be happier, we should cultivate forgiveness, gratitude, and spirituality. Instead, he says, people are constantly looking for someone to blame or to be annoyed with. This is not just socially accepted but socially rewarded. And intellectuals tell us everything is purposeless atoms in an uncaring universe.
The last 80 pages are an argument for what the early 20th century would have called social gospel: universal health insurance, a high minimum wage, lots of foreign aid; government should regulate executive compensation. Whether you agree with these or not, they don’t have much to do with the subtitle of the book.
To be fair, Easterbrook pretty much says, “They would make me happy, and they SHOULD make you happy, too.” However, that points to another problem with the book. Though marketed as a work of social science, it is full of preaching. Much of the book is not about why “people feel worse” or better but about how the author thinks we should live.
In the last few pages, he seems to say, “Once we are not poor, nothing we do will make us happier, so we should just be good people and do good things.” Now that would be an interesting thesis to organize a book around.
After taking the reader through a tour of why people aren't satisfied with life today despite the fact that in the West now we are probably at the 99th percentile in just about every way, people still aren't happy or satisfied. Easterbrook then writes about the importance of gratitude and forgiveness, then takes us back to the problems, then to utopia.
Through all these issues, just what will bring happiness and gratitude to people, to help create a utopia? (I remember reading Thomas More's Utopia in high school--yes, we read such things then!--and feeling quite unsatisfied. When we were then assigned to write our own utopia, I discovered how hard that was.)
Easterbrook offers some solutions which should bring us happiness by taking the focus off of ourselves and helping others at the bottom of the ladder. OK, we are on the way . . .but then we stall out again. Something Easterbrook didn't mention which I think would be a good contribution to ordering our lives toward gratitude and forgiveness are the principles Catholic social (and moral) teaching. These principles help to order the human heart and society toward creation of the community (communio) we need; the promotion of the common good; respect for the dignity of life. All these principles (and more) all help create a society and world where life is worth living.
At least I have found it so.
In parts, the author does a great job looking at the 'why'. But I'd have expected this to be the whole focus.
The book also diverges into some odd areas, such as a general criticism of various CEOs who take disproportionately large salaries. I could follow at least tenuously where he was going, but it seemed to be more pushing a personal complaint about the individuals than presenting a tight and coherent case for why capitalism makes people sad.
Ultimately while I read the whole book and found some of it interesting, it didn't impress me and I felt the quality was inconsistent.