the blessed state of perpetual euphoria
Perpetual Euphoria: On the Duty to Be Happy
by Pascal Bruckner, Translated by Steven Rendal
Happiness today is not just a possibility or an option but a requirement and a duty. To fail to be happy is to fail utterly. Happiness has become a religion–one whose smiley-faced god looks down in rebuke upon everyone who hasn’t yet attained the blessed state of perpetual euphoria. How has a liberating principle of the Enlightenment–the right to pursue happiness–become the unavoidable and burdensome responsibility to be happy? How did we become unhappy about not being happy–and what might we do to escape this predicament? In Perpetual Euphoria, Pascal Bruckner takes up these questions with all his unconventional wit, force, and brilliance, arguing that we might be happier if we simply abandoned our mad pursuit of happiness.
Gripped by the twin illusions that we are responsible for being happy or unhappy and that happiness can be produced by effort, many of us are now martyring ourselves–sacrificing our time, fortunes, health, and peace of mind–in the hope of entering an earthly paradise. Much better, Bruckner argues, would be to accept that happiness is an unbidden and fragile gift that arrives only by grace and luck.
A stimulating and entertaining meditation on the unhappiness at the heart of the modern cult of happiness, Perpetual Euphoria is a book for everyone who has ever bristled at the command to “be happy.”
Pascal Bruckner is the award-winning author of many books of fiction and nonfiction, including the novel Bitter Moon, which was made into a film by Roman Polanski. Bruckner’s nonfiction books include The Tyranny of Guilt (Princeton), The Temptation of Innocence, and The Tears of the White Man (Free Press).
“Perpetual Euphoria is a beautiful essay. Lively, corrosive, brilliant…. [W]oven from pure emotion.“–Le Journal du Dimanche
“A writer who has inherited the mantle of the French moralists’ grand tradition.”–Le Monde
“Pascal Bruckner’s essay is a subtle attack, both scholarly and ironic, against the new obligation of being happy.”–La Croix
“As an essayist in the tradition of Kundera and Montaigne, Bruckner has a bracing knack of distilling the attitudes of the contemporary moment and helping us appraise them anew.”–The Age
“The happiness-promotion and happiness-backlash schools are locked today in a weird, symbiotic struggle. Weighing in on the side of the anti-happiness underdog is this sublime rhetorical performance by the novelist and philosophe Bruckner, denying serially that the individual has a duty to pursue happiness; that happiness could be a social goal; that happiness is the opposite of boredom, or the absence of suffering, or the fulfillment of plans.”–Steven Poole, Guardian
“Pascal Bruckner, the anti-Pangloss of our time, engagingly reminds us that it is better to lead a rich life with tears than a happy one lacking meaning.”–Alan Wolfe, author of The Future of Liberalism
“Pascal Bruckner might well be the most distinguished essay writer in France today. He is both inordinately talented and prodigiously politically incorrect. No one better unmasks the pieties of the reigning intellectual cant. Whether one agrees or disagrees with him, he does the life of the mind an invaluable service.”–Richard Wolin, author of The Wind from the East