Around this time last year, I started a review series of self-help books and made a lot of resolutions. Then 2020 happened, and now I can only marvel at the optimism that emerged from the first pitch of the series. The quest, however, is not over. It might not surprise you, but the four books I’ve analyzed so far did not make me a qualified life coach. Hence, I’d like to bring before you a more mathematical approach to achieve success, love, and happiness, elaborated by Scott Galloway in The Algebra of Happiness.
2021, this time it’s personal
I won’t bore you with the ‘New Year, new me’ charade, no. I’m pretty much the same as last year, although a bit more cautious when planning for what’s beyond my control, as I’ve mentioned in one of my previous articles. 2021 is a second chance to get into life coaching and become a professional advice-giver. A Nagging Nancy of self-help, if you will. And to achieve that goal, I shall read, and read I shall, as I seem to have plenty of self-help books gathering dust on my shelves.
One way to get my license as a professional life coach is to run the numbers and figure out what I intend to do with my future. And here to help me is The Algebra of Happiness. With a 3.79 grading on Goodreads and the author being a professor in marketing, a public speaker, and an entrepreneur, this book has a lot to offer.
But, damn, reviewers did not go easy on it. Even the people that have granted the book a fairly good score call the author a privileged man-child, naive, misogynistic, or worse. Now, I don’t know about that and I’d blame 2020 for not closing the book with such strong feelings toward it or its author. But to be honest, this is not the point. Was the book helpful? That’s a completely different question, so let’s take a look at the three parts of the book.
Success, or how to become an outstanding CEO
In the first part of the book, the author talks about the recipe for success, with the crucial ingredient being one’s postal code. ‘Go live in a city that offers you professional opportunities that align with your career prospects’ – a lot of people would advise that. And yet, Mr. Scott doesn’t agree. Apparently, success can only be found in the US, that’s right. So, apply for a visa and get your plane ticket for the Transatlantic journey to success.
Another notable lesson from this chapter is that your career trajectory is defined in the first five years after your Bachelor’s graduation. The bright side of this part is that it highlights the importance of finishing your studies in the overall scheme of success.
Some extra pieces of advice were then briefly mentioned as if professor Galloway was afraid to disclose too much information to the readers. Recommendations such as, ‘Think about your expenses’, ‘Drink less’, and ‘Don’t underestimate the long-term effects of experiences on your happiness’ are squeezed into merely two pages. The rest of the chapter is dedicated to those who have already (somewhat) succeeded in life and are looking for reassurance on how they handled eventual obstacles.
Scott urges people not to follow their passion but rather to pursue something they are good at. And that’s not such a bad piece of advice.
Scott urges people not to follow their passion but rather to pursue something they are good at. And that’s not such a bad piece of advice. Nowadays, there’s such intense pressure on people to identify their passions, as if they were the ultimate answer to any existential ‘question of life, the universe and everything’ (some knowledgeable people might know that the answer is actually 42). But passion should not be the only thing to consider when choosing a career path.
Love, a heteronormative perspective of happiness as marital bliss
The second part of the book deals with the pursuit of love in our lives, or so it claims. In my opinion, this section should be titled ‘Mr. Galloway’s life and his children’. Nostalgic of the graphic filled pages, the reader is now immersed in the author’s personal life. But Scott, buddy, we have only a few chapters left, and I honestly don’t care about your life or kids. I want you to tell me how to be happy, so cut to the chase and give me the formula.
This is to say that if you don’t envision marrying someone and having an average of 2.5 children as part of your life plan, you should skip this part. The one thing that is worth mentioning is that you should be very mindful when choosing your life partner. Indeed, walking together toward a shared goal is an instrumental part of any lasting relationship.
Health, how to cope with an overgrown sense of entitlement
In the third and final part of the book, things get a bit more…outlandish. As one review puts it, this book gives the impression of being written exclusively for macho caricatures of men that don’t display their emotions and condemn any sign of vulnerability as a lack of manhood. And in no other part, it is more visible than in this last one. ‘Cry – it’s good for you’, ‘Live in the moment’, ‘Don’t be a jerk’ – these are some of the author’s recommendations. Pretty riveting stuff, I know. Not at all baseline directions on how to be a decent person.
As a woman in her twenties that has no intention of emigrating to the US, The Algebra of Happiness had very ‘irrational’ results for me. And now, a few final words about the book. It has a cool writing-style – very easy to follow (no wonder Scott Galloway is a public speaker) – and a good premise. Although, that is sadly overweight by an extremely narrow and privileged view of happiness and success, with a sprinkle of financial advice that doesn’t hold water. Having said that, there’s a summarized version of the book on YouTube, so save yourself money and time, and have a bite of Scott’s ego by watching that instead.
Cover: Jamie Taylor