Sunday, June 4, 2017

Book Review: Poundstone's Search for Human Happiness

I started reading humor in earnest about one week after the November 2016 election.

When I came across “The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness” I hadn't heard about Paula's first book yet, but I was accustomed to hearing her on NPR's Wait, Wait, Don' Tell Me, where she'd advocate for the humane treatment of Twinkies or extol the virtues of the Apple Cinnamon Pop Tart. So I was really excited to get my hands on it. The book, not the Pop Tart.

I won't say that I couldn't put the book down – that would be lying. And besides it's such a pathetic cliché. But I will say that I read the book in record time. And one night, while I was lying on my back in bed, holding the book above me so that I could read it, I picked it right back up again after I dozed off and dropped it on my face. (Note to self, avoid reading hardcover books while lying on back.)

I enjoyed the variety of humor. There's plenty of the self-effacing cracks that you'd expect from a comedian / cat lady. There's also a spot light on the thoughtlessness / stupidity all of us face as we navigate our day-to-day existence. For example, she tells how she needed to sign up online for a class on computers for absolute beginners. And, my favorite, the mental slapstick during her meditation class. All this undergirded by a bizarre unique, out-of-the-box thought process.

There were sections that made me uncomfortable, though. I kept worrying that she would smash the Lamborghini (or that it would get vandalized or stolen) even as I entertained the notion that she had somehow gotten her publisher to reimburse her for the rental fee. And the first “Get Organized” chapter was draining because it hit so close to home. I still remember how tedious and dreadful it was for me to declutter my home office, even though it was more than ten years ago. Personally I think she should've kept the underwear with all the holes in it. I find that “holey” underwear is nice on a hot day. And with global warming, the summers won't be getting much cooler for at least the next dozen or so epochs.

This is one of the few books that I was able to read the Acknowledgments section to completion. In most books, it's a seemingly endless string of shout-outs. But Paula's gratitude is genuine, if, perhaps, swamped with relief over having completed the book. Yet I'm surprised that she did not thank her sixteen cats – they deserve to be acknowledged for not peeing on the computer keyboard, or for not highlighting the file and stepping on the Delete key, before Paula sent the manuscript to the publisher. Or maybe they did, and Paula had a backup copy.

Regardless of intention, I think the book serves just as well as a self-help book as it does entertainment. Obviously the humor provides immediate relief from the doldrums. But then for extended relief, you'll benefit from Paula's findings, three of which are that: 1. Happiness from a fancy car is fleeting; B. Getting a good night's sleep does wonders for your outlook; π. Striving to make others happy brings happiness to yourself. So the book is like that dual-action, 12-hour Mucinex – immediate and long-acting relief.