My American Unhappiness (2011)

Dean Bakopoulos

Rating: 6/10

I read this book on my wife’s recommendation and found it to be an interesting and somewhat enlightening read.  It’s about a struggling non-profit director (Zeke) who is trying to get at the root of what he perceives as most Americans’ chronic unhappiness (as distinguished from sadness).  He does this through interviews and email responses to his website.  Zeke struggles with his own tragedies throughout the book and we get to read a sampling of his respondents’ answers which range from the mundane to the macabre.

I won’t give too much away about the plot (that’s below), but I did find some resonance with some of the “reasons given” via email or oral interviews (and Zeke’s own philosophy on the subject).  Everything from a general injustice in the world, to constant indebtedness to corporate institutions, to a lack of drive to do what really want are given as reasons why some people are unhappy (and of course, some claim they are not unhappy at all).

Zeke does fall deeper into a depression of sorts, and at several points I wanted to slap him around and tell him to “man up” (proverbially).  This shed an enlightening angle on my own self-righteous rants that sound eerily similar to Zeke’s.

It’s not a wholly depressing book though, and humor is spread throughout.  The author goes into some fun detail about my alma mater (Ann Arbor) and even mentions one of my favorite professors (Ralph Williams).  I’d recommend it for a light read (I finished it pretty much in one night) that can provoke some good and possibly motivating thoughts (“crap or get off the pot” comes to mind).

SPOILER ALERT:

I had a few problems with some of the plot holes.  The catalyst for Zeke’s downward spiral is never fully explained (his new wife fakes her own death and we never find out why) other than she admits “she was not a good person then.”

And a sinister government agency’s role in investigating Zeke, his non-profit, and a congressman are left pretty vague

But looking past these, I enjoyed the book overall…I think.

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