The Happiness Fantasy | Carl Cederström

Summary of: The Happiness Fantasy
By: Carl Cederström

Introduction

In ‘The Happiness Fantasy’, Carl Cederström takes an insightful journey through the history and construct of the happiness fantasy—a cultural template that promises the good life through self-actualization, authenticity, and pleasure-seeking. Tracing its roots to the ideas of Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, the book explores the evolution of this concept and its impact on society. Touching upon the countercultural movements of the 1960s and 1970s, the human potential movement, and the commercialization of happiness, ‘The Happiness Fantasy’ challenges and unravels the idealized notion of living the good life.

The Happiness Fantasy Blueprint

The Happiness Fantasy presents a pre-made blueprint for living a meaningful life. This blueprint revolves around the concept of self-actualization, which involves shedding the inauthentic external self to reveal the true inner self. By gratifying our inner capabilities and desires, we become authentic and experience pleasure, thus achieving a good life.

The Origins of the Happiness Fantasy

The story of Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich’s obsession with sexuality and his life’s work, which influenced the happiness ideology widely adopted during the 60s and 70s in California. Reich developed a psychological theory around orgastic potency and the full orgasm. His abrasive personality and heterodox views led to his expulsion from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society and other psychoanalytic associations across Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Reich emigrated to the east coast of the United States and invented the orgone accumulator, a person-size wooden box that he claimed to capture and concentrate orgone energy with miraculous healing properties. Despite the US Food and Drug Administration not believing his claims, Reich’s theories lived on, and his work inspired the philosophy of happiness widely adopted during the countercultural movements of the 60s and 70s in California.

Reich’s Influential Ideas

The book discusses the ideas of Wilhelm Reich, whose views on sexual and political liberation inspired counterculture movements like the hipsters and hippies. Reich believed that the family and state were oppressive, as they demanded obedience and discouraged people from pursuing their desires for authentic pleasure, including through orgasmic sex. He saw sexual and political liberation as intertwined, and his ideas deeply resonated with the countercultural movements of the 1940s and 1950s. Reich’s work was rooted in anti-authoritarianism, and his focus on pleasure as a key to individual freedom and societal change continues to inspire progressive thinkers today.

The Evolution of Counterculture

The book explores the evolution of counterculture from Henry Miller’s residence in Big Sur to the popularity of the Esalen Institute, which became the hub for the human potential movement. The author discusses the increasing interest in uninhibited sexuality, banned books, anarchistic politics, and drug-induced mysticism by those who followed Miller to Big Sur. The institute, founded by Michael Murphy and Richard Price, attracted luminaries such as philosopher Alan Watts, psychologists Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, writer Aldous Huxley, and psychiatrist Fritz Perls. Perls was a disciple of Wilhelm Reich and considered the most influential member of the human potential movement, which cooked up ideas of the happiness fantasy.

Perls’ Gestalt Therapy

Fritz Perls developed Gestalt Therapy, where life is likened to a theatrical production, and each person has a role to play. The therapy aimed to make people realize that they’re adhering to scripts others wrote for them and encourage them to take control of their “performance.” During his workshops at the Esalen Institute, Perls had patients sit on the “hot seat” where they would express their dreams and act out the characters in them, aiming to break through their psychological armor and find their inner selves. The ultimate objective of Gestalt therapy was self-development or self-actualization, and it gained popularity in the 1960s and 1970s as self-development training centers sprouted in the US.

The Rise of Werner Erhard

Werner Erhard, born John Paul Rosenberg, saw an opportunity to capitalize on the human potential movement that was taking place in San Francisco during the late 1960s and early 1970s. He founded an organization called Erhard Seminar Training (est) and offered a simple message that mixed workshop methods from Fritz Perls, fused Western and Eastern psychology from Alan Watts, and self-help books from the 1930s, to achieve material success. The results yielded significant influence, with over 700,000 people attending Erhard’s training programs over the next two decades.

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