Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux/ Sarah Crichton Books, 2008)

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Americans are addicted to happiness. When we’re not popping pills, we leaf through scientific studies that take for granted our quest for happiness, or read self-help books by everyone from armchair philosophers and clinical psychologists to the Dalai Lama on how to achieve a trouble-free life: Stumbling on Happiness; Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment; The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living. The titles themselves draw a stark portrait of the war on melancholy. More than any other generation, Americans of today believe in the transformative power of positive thinking. But who says we’re supposed to be happy? In Against Happiness, scholar Eric G. Wilson argues that melancholia is necessary to any thriving culture, that it is the muse of great literature, painting, music, and innovation—and that it is the force underlying original insights. So enough Prozac-ing of our brains. Let’s embrace our depressive sides as the wellspring of creativity. What most people take for contentment, Wilson argues, is living death, and what the majority takes for depression is a vital force. It’s time to throw off the shackles of positivity and relish the blues that make us human.

Praise for Against Happiness:

"...a wicked, wise and cheerfully misanthropic treatise." Sara Nelson, Publisher’s Weekly

“This singular book resounds with insights potent enough to bring the chronically sad of heart into a new and more respectful relation to their sadness. In that sense, it is a genuine work of edification.” –The Christian Century

“Wilson's polemical thesis is a welcome antidote for readers seeking a richer if more complicated existence than one offered by self-help culture.” –America: The National Catholic Weekly

“Wilson's meditations . . .  are stirring. . . provocative cultural analysis.”  --Publisher’s Weekly

“Mr. Wilson's case for the dark night of the soul brings a much needed corrective to today's mania for cheerfulness. One would almost say that, in its eloquent contrarianism and earnest search for meaning, Against Happiness lifts the spirits.” — Colin McGinn, The Wall Street Journal

“[Wilson has] the passionate soul of a nineteenth-century romantic who, made wise by encounters with his own personal darkness, invites readers to share his reverence for nature and exuberance for life. Providing a powerful literary complement to recent psychological discussions of melancholy . . . this treatment is variously gloomy and ecstatic, infuriating and even inspiring.” —Booklist

"I have never been Mr. Happy, but after reading Against Happiness, I felt a lot better about myself. It almost made me happy. An important book and a stunning reminder, in these troubled times, that there are important lessons in our pain and that a smile may make a better moment, but not a better world." —Lewis Black

“An impassioned, compelling, dare I say poetic, argument on behalf of those who ‘labor in the fields of sadness’. . . a loose and compelling argument for fully embracing one's existence, for it is a miracle itself — a call to live hard and full, to participate in the great rondure of life and to be aware of the fact that no one perspective on the world is ever finally true.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[A] lively, reasoned call for the preservation of melancholy in the face of all-too-rampant cheerfulness. . . . pithy and epigrammatic.” —Bookforum

“Wilson's argument is important, and he makes it with passion.” —Raleigh News and Observer

“Gleefully peevish . . .” —New York Review of Books

“[A] potent little polemic . . . poetic prose . . . If you think the world is being overrun by zombie Pollyannas intent on spreading their insidious joy, Against Happiness will gladden your heart.”—Globe and Mail

“[A] deeply philosophical polemic . . . lucid and engaging prose.”—Playboy.com

"A lucid, literate defense of feeling like hell—and, in fact, of feeling itself." —David Gates, author of Jernigan

"With his merry diatribe and his spiritual wisdom, Eric Wilson brings us to our senses and gives us a book that really helps. Dare to be against mere contentment and you can end up embracing ecstasy." —Robert D. Richardson, author of William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism
 
"This book will change your mind, and maybe your life, with its pitiless account of the value of happiness and the price we Americans pay for pursuing it so compulsively. Almost every American claims to be happy, and yet we are a nation increasingly benumbed by drugs, opiated by messianic religion and buffed smooth by surgery, as we chase the illusions of perpetual youth, of life without death and joy without pain. This movingly written book may help us stand up before it’s too late and face our demons, by learning to love the melancholy realism and the creative powers that arise out of the darkness in our hearts."  —Richard Klein, author of Cigarettes Are Sublime