Between contemporary emphasis on grievances and the fears engendered by 9/11, today it is common to hear it said that life has started downhill, or that our parents had it better. But objectively, almost everyone in today's United States or European Union lives better than his or her parents did.
Still, studies show that the percentage of the population that is happy has not increased in fifty years, while depression and stress have become ever more prevalent. The Progress Paradox explores why ever-higher living standards don't seem to make us any happier. Detailing the emerging science of "positive psychology," which seeks to understand what causes a person's sense of well-being, Easterbrook offers an alternative to our culture of crisis and complaint. He makes a compelling case that optimism, gratitude and acts of forgiveness not only make modern life more fulfilling but are actually in our self-interest.
Seemingly insoluble problems of the past, such as crime in New York City and smog in Los Angeles, have proved more tractable than they were thought to be. Likewise, today's "impossible" problems, such as global warming and Islamic terrorism, can be tackled, too.
Like The Tipping Point, this book offers an affirming and constructive way of seeing the world anew. The Progress Paradox will change the way you think about your place in the world, and about our collective ability to make it better.
©2003 Gregg Easterbrook; (P)2003 Books On Tape, Inc.
"Easterbrook...writes nothing that is not brilliant." (Chicago Tribune)
"This is an important, timely, and well-reasoned book that is sure to have people talking." (Booklist)
"Easterbrook...is a serious author with serious points to make." (The New York Times)
"Easterbrook invests the timeless questions of life's meaning with distinctly contemporary pertinence." (George Will)
"Easterbrook is perhaps the finest general science writer in the country." (Forbes)
Quite apart from the Fox News-poisoned minds of some reviewers above, I found this book to be generally quite important, with a few minor exceptions.
Easterbrook is no ranting liberal. He's a middling to conservative catholic writer with a fine head for synthesis. He brings together such wide-ranging topics as affective forecasting, behavioral economics, psychology, religion, sprituality, and statistics into a well-reasoned (but not perfect or comprehensive - no one would read such a book) sensible argument that boils down to this: we can be satisfied only if we choose to be.
The bottomless appetite we all experienced as children can be carried into adulthood if we are not mindful, resulting in a surprising inability to experience happiness in the face of plenty. Our lives can waste away in a cloud of pointless and insatiable material desires.
Great stuff. It will inspire gratitude in all but the most ideological stuf grabbers.
An obvious fool
Easterbrook has many compelling arguments that although the culture of complaint and pessimism are seductive, an optimistic and kind demeanor towards life and others is far wiser. He cites voluminous statistics concerning how things are improving and studies that demonstrate the benefits to those who follow a philosophy of optimism and compassion.
I have familiarity with some of the literature Easterbrook cites and as a whole his arguments and logic are stronger than those of the individual authors he discusses. After listening to the book, it is more difficult for me to think and act in a pessimistic fashion. This alone makes the book worthwhile
There is definitely something fascinating happening with this book, based on just the reviews on Audible: half the people are angry about his right-wing agenda, and the other half are angry about his left-wing agenda. And amidst all these partisan dismissals there are very few people who seem to understand the real point of this book. To me, it's about how we as a culture tend to wallow in the negative(!), and despite most things having gotten significantly better in the world, we remain cynical and unhappy. Sure, the guy puts some of his own opinions in the book, some leaning a little left and some leaning a little right. That's what authors of books like this are supposed to do, IMHO --- and I for one was impressed by the fact that he didn't seem to follow any one party line but spoke up for things he felt were right regardless of whether it was right or left. I wish more of us did. But his strongest points were not his opinions but the factual data on so many things that most of us have taken for granted as "getting worse," when the data shows they are all getting better. And I think it is fascinating that the primary response to a guy who writes an extremely positive, optimistic book is full of such hostility, vitriol and indignation. Mr. Easterbrook may be onto something more powerful than he thought --- perhaps he could follow up with "The Positivity Paradox." In any case, I highly recommend this book, because it seems you will either a)get something positive and enlightening out of it, as I did, b)feel better about your liberal beliefs by dismissing him as a tool of the far right, or c)feel better about your conservative beliefs by dismissing him as a tool of the far left. There's truly something there for everbody!
I really enjoyed this book. It explains how all things have been getting better for years, crime is down, people live longer, purchasing power is up, almost all things are better. He also explains why despite all these trends happiness is not going up.
The narrator is extremely clear and does an excellent job of reading the book.
Easterbrook's book is a good examination, albeit somewhat long-winded, of how the human condition has improved over the past 100 years--and how rarely it is reported.
As an engineer, a fiscal conservative and a social liberal, I found that this book was even-handed, with swipes at the New York Times, The Washington Post, the (non-charitable) religous right and the environmental-nut left.
One of his greatest strengths in the book is his constant willingness to adjust statistics in meaningful ways. For example, while examining the gap between the rich and poor in the United States, he adjusts for first generation immigrants, and discovers that the gap is probably not the concern that it is portrayed. He also points out that the difference between what is available to the very rich and the middle class has drastically shrunk over the past several generations, to the point that it is difficult to identify many things that are only available to the super-rich. His encouragement of charity in general and religion in particular is also good, for he shows a clear understanding of enlightened self-interest.
His greatest weaknesses, however, are in failing to clearly communicate his (presumable) understanding that you can't make people not be poor by giving them money. He underestimates the extent that poor governments cause famine and injustice in the developing world.
Additionally, while his statistical analysis and adjustment is generally good, missing is some of the negative adjustment of expectations. For example, while the number of people attending college and graduating has reached a record high, the number of remedial college courses have also increased.
All things considered, his perspective is a refreshing look at the current human condition, and a good read.
This a great book, it certainly makes you think about the way we live our lives in North America. I've listened to twice. I recommend this to anyone who searches for happiness. It certainly offers some tips and ways to look at life that will make you appreciate what you've got.
I rather enjoyed this book. However, as someone that is pretty happy, grateful for the things I have and more concerned with environmental issues then the average person . . . I would have to say that I'm in the minority. Having just spent a year traveling around the 'western world' and now returned to my small home town in Canada; I would have to say that what the author has to say relates to most of the people that I met during my travels . . . it's certainly worth listening to (regardless which side of the coin your on.)
This was a very interesting book. I'm kind of anti-news media, since they always seem to leave you with the impression that the world is a terrible place and that everything is getting worse. This book is filled with facts that make you realize that most things are much better than they have been at any previous time in world history. It was refreshing in that regard.
However, in the middle of the book he launches a tirade against SUV's and how wasteful and horrible they are. I was thinking, huh? Where did that come from? Most cars are more economical these days, why is he focusing on the exceptions now? It was just the beginning... He goes on to plug universal healthcare, ending poverty, class envy, and protecting the environment. All classic liberal causes. I could spend time picking apart the biased way he uses statistics to make some of his points, but I'll leave that to you.
It dawned on me that he was using our unprecedented prosperity to shame people into solving these problems. At the same time I was objecting to where he was going, I was also asking myself, is he wrong? Well, no, these problems need solving (ignoring the hysteria around the causes). The dangerous aspect of the book is that it does not address what method should be used to solve these problems. Many people will look to government to solve the issues, which I think the dangerous aspect of this book. He makes clear points for market economics and interfering with these principles would be detrimental. In my philosophy, charity is a principle of the heart, not a government program.
Overall this is a good read and will challenge both conservatives and liberals alike, not to mention those "glass half empty" folks.
I have to say that the first half of the book was very interesting and something I would urge anyone living in western society to listen to. He shows how even though most media outlets like to focus on the negative, and people love to believe everything bad that they hear, things really are getting better from our parents generation.
As someone who lives under 'wage stress' or whatever his name was for people who were just above minimum wage, but also in constant fear of some accidental drain on resources to put them in the poor house, I have to disagree with many of the things he states in the latter portion of his book, which contains almost all of the material I didn't feel fit the theme of the book.
In the first half, he addresses facts about how life is getting better, and wonders why we aren't feeling good about it. You would then say that he would put forth some ideas on how to feel good about it, or at least continue with his 'quit your bitching, things ARE good' feel he had going at the beginning of the book.
Instead, he dives off into long tirades on seemingly unconnected subjects like the 'pathetic arab nations' (his words not mine) and raising the federal minimum wage to an outrageous ten dollars an hour in an effort to make things more expensive for your average American in order to help the statistically fewer poor, forgetting about those of us right above the minimum he suggests, and thusly those that would hurt the worst by the inflation of goods to follow. He also tried to shame the reader into taking on even more of a burden in order to give more money to third world countries. What that has to do with things being better and us not being happy about it is above my head.
Additionally, he seems incapable of using the word "car," instead referring to them as "massive SUV's with the drivers screaming into their cell phones!" While I agree with his general dislike for the vehicle, it isn't the only thing on the road.
Now I'm out of words
The Progress Paradox starts off with an interesting review of why, despite things being better, people seem unhappy. It's an interesting topic and the book raises some good points and observations.
Having built a solid foundation demonstrating how well market economies have provided a higher standard of living and discussing the unexpected angst that has resulted, the book then veers off into a socialist agenda advocating class warfare against the rich, government control of markets, and massive government programs. All of this is hidden under a false flag of "fairness" improvements to the market system. While the early material in the book is well supported with studies and facts, the veiled political views are hyped with false analogies, hysterical language, hidden assumptions, and outright ignorance of basic economic principles.
You could get the book and just throw it away after you've read the first half, but picking up a copy of P J O'Rourkes "Holidays in Hell" will provide a better read and a lot more insight into how the world really works.
In this World we have solution and we have problems this book is definately part of the solution and also any body who gives this book less then 5 stars, better have a dam good explaination .
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