Books

Come On, Get Happy

Ariel Gore on Female Happiness

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ARIEL GORE is a local feminist writer best known as the founder of the zine Hip Mama, and author of the books The Hip Mama Survival Guide: Advice from the Trenches and Whatever, Mom: Hip Mama's Guide to Raising a Teenager. Hipness firmly established, Gore turns her attention to the subject of female happiness in her new nonfiction book, Bluebird. The book's jacket poses the question: Can a woman be smart, empowered, and happy?

If the answer to that question seems obvious—seems, in fact, so blindingly obvious that it's fairly inconceivable that anyone would devote an entire book to the subject—I'd advise you to pass on Bluebird. If, however, you've been fretting over your own happiness levels—and if you can stomach a goodly amount of well-meaning self-help speak—you might find something of value in Gore's earnest new book.

Gore is interested in the positive psychology movement—one that asks its followers to focus on the factors that contribute to happiness, rather than concentrating on dysfunction and disorder. She notes that it's a field dominated by male psychologists, based on studies performed on male subjects—leaving the female experience of happiness largely unstudied. "It was with all this in mind," she writes, "that I began my own 'study of living'—an adventure into the feminine history, science, and experience of happiness—intent on discovering the secret of joy." Bluebird is the result of that study, for which she interviewed hundreds of women, kept a "happiness journal," and convened a "council of experts" made up of women who committed to monitoring the things that made them happy. She's attempting, ultimately, to redefine happiness for women, within cultural and medical contexts that have not historically placed a high value on female happiness.

Gore seems like a nice person, and her book is written engagingly enough, combining scientific research with personal anecdotes and insights culled from literature and history. Anyone who's spent any time with the fiction of self-fulfillment, though (Paulo Coelho, Siddhartha), is unlikely to be impressed by Gore's conclusions. Ultimately, she determines that "we are happy when we are dynamically engaged with our lives"—an engagement that often requires women to question and reject "the basic scripts for female happiness they had been handed." It seems like a no-brainer—but then, so does the question at the heart of this book.

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