As economic misery in America persists, the country’s self-help industry has become a multibillion-dollar bonanza. If one reads enough of that industry’s happiness catechism — including its latest bestseller, Build The Life You Want — one realizes that all of the advice revolves around a core set of directives: Focus on the self rather than the collective, redeploy hours to different priorities, spend less time at work, build deeper personal relationships — and by implication, buy more self-help books.
But if “time is money,” then in America’s survival-of-the-richest form of capitalism, time-intensive remedies are mostly for the affluent. That is, those with a big enough savings account to de-risk career changes; those with enough income to afford gym memberships, hobbies, and excursions; those with enough paid leave and cash to enjoy the best vacations; those with enough resources to employ personal aides to do the paperwork, chores, and cleaning; those with enough workplace leverage to secure more hours off for introspection, friend time, and outdoor adventures.
Erasure of privilege disparity and presumption of wealth has turned most self-help products into a series of Stuart Smalley affirmations for the already and nearly comfortable. But while such class bias pervades the Happiness Industry, it is particularly egregious coming from the author of the aforementioned Build The Life You Want: Arthur Brooks, hardly a disinterested bystander in this epoch of economic anxiety and its attendant unhappiness.
As the former $2.7-million-a-year head of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) — one of the country’s most prominent conservative think tanks — Brooks spent a decade sowing the despair he now insists he is here to cure.