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Abstract

The desire to be happy is one of the most basic motivations for behavior, cutting across culture, language, and spatial divides. Walk quickly through a bookstore and you will be struck by the proliferation of self-help guides: step by step manuals to correct or fix you so that you too can be happy. Americans have all too willingly embraced the self-improvement ideology. This is not a shocking revelation as the United States has always been fueled by a guiding belief in continual progress towards perfection. However, with the advent of capitalism, progress has become typified by commodity fetishism—an unrealistic belief that products can magically recreate our inner selves and elicit long-term satisfaction. In this article I utilize a phenomenological approach while drawing on other sociological theories and concepts to illustrate how individual happiness is dominated and impaired by the American cultural myth; a blueprint for a life plan that inextricably links success and materialism as a precursory condition to happiness. From birth, people are indoctrinated with the myth, its tenets of future-mindedness and possession repeatedly legitimated throughout culture. I argue that the American culture myth of a systematic life plan fundamentally obstructs happiness, ultimately dominating and enslaving the individual in what Georg Simmel calls the tragedy of culture.

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