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Thursday, July 23, 2020

Review: The Algebra of Happiness

I read The Four and found it enjoyable enough to consider other Scott Galloway books. He's irreverent and fun, so I tried The Algebra of Happiness.

Written in much the same style, and also with no academic rigor, Galloway reflects on life, success, happiness, and kids. Here's the closest thing to real insight you're going to get out of the book:
The mortgage tax deduction is one of the costliest taxbreaks in America. Another? Lower taxation on capital gains, versus ordinary income. These are both positioned as “American”: homeownership and investing. They are simply transfers of wealth from the poor to the rich. Who owns homes and stocks? Wealthy old people. Who rents and doesn’t have assets that qualify for capital gains treatment? The young and the poor. (Kindle Loc 1175)
The rest of the book (mostly short, one page chapters that look like they were ripped out of a blog post)  is mostly anecdotes, little stories, with maybe at most a pithy moral attached to the story. For instance, I've often noted that I find outdoors people who've overcome challenges in nature more real in some way than people who've conquered the corporate world mostly because you can't fool nature or politic against it. Galloway's equivalent insight turns it into a block-headed truism about propagation of species:
WE HAVE friends, a couple, who lost an extended family member to ALS. Soon after, they took stock of their blessings and asked each other, “What could we do to better seize the moments that are our life?” The husband is an adventurer and proposed that, with their three kids, they circumnavigate the globe in a high-tech catamaran. This would be insane if they weren’t both uber-competent people whom others trust with their lives and livelihoods (she’s a doc, he’s a CEO). Even so, cruising around on the open ocean supported by two giant boogie boards feels a tad crazy. They did a test run, a week at sea, which I followed closely on Instagram. The night watches, rough seas, engine trouble . . . all of it. I didn’t get it. This seemed more like punishment than taking life by the horns. And then, in one image, it became clear. The husband’s joy was evident, even in 2D. To be with his family, applying their skills, strength, and wits to embrace and conquer nature made him glow. No filter. Partners who can take what they’ve built together and throw the full force of that at each other’s happiness are likely the root of our prosperity as a species. The most rewarding things in life aren’t accoutrements or our technological progress (Cartier or Boeing) but things that have been baked into us over millions of years to augment the species. (Kindle loc 997)
I'd take a hard pass on this book, unless you want the equivalent of brainless TV entertainment.

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