Review: The Happiness Effect by Donna Freitas


Sexting. Cyberbullying. Narcissism. Social media has become the dominant force in young people’s lives, and each day seems to bring another shocking tale of private pictures getting into the wrong hands, or a lament that young people feel compelled to share their each and every thought with the entire world.

Have smartphones and social media created a generation of self-obsessed egomaniacs? 

Absolutely not, Donna Freitas argues in this provocative book. And, she says, these alarmist fears are drawing attention away from the real issues that young adults are facing.

Drawing on a large-scale survey and interviews with students on thirteen college campuses, Freitas finds that what young people are overwhelmingly concerned with–what they really want to talk about–is happiness. They face enormous pressure to look perfect online–not just happy, but blissful, ecstatic, and fabulously successful. Unable to achieve this impossible standard, they are anxious about letting the less-than-perfect parts of themselves become public. Far from wanting to share everything, they are brutally selective when it comes to curating their personal profiles, and worry obsessively that they might unwittingly post something that could come back to haunt them later in life. Through candid conversations with young people from diverse backgrounds, Freitas reveals how even the most well-adjusted individuals can be stricken by self-doubt when they compare their experiences with the vast collective utopia that they see online. And sometimes, as on anonymous platforms like Yik Yak, what they see instead is a depressing cesspool of racism and misogyny. Yet young people are also extremely attached to their smartphones and apps, which sometimes bring them great pleasure. It is very much a love-hate relationship.

While much of the public’s attention has been focused on headline-grabbing stories, the everyday struggles and joys of young people have remained under the radar. Freitas brings their feelings to the fore, in the words of young people themselves. The Happiness Effect is an eye-opening window into their first-hand experiences of social media and its impact on them.


When I was offered the chance to read this book I jumped at it! This, I thought is right up my alley!  I’m studying Psychology at University at the moment and topics like this really interest me.

So perhaps this book could never live up to my expectation but I was really disappointed.  It is a solid start to what seems to be an unfinished piece of research; I wanted so much more than page after page of interviews with college students and a little commentary.

To me this book seems to be missing it’s why!  There was a lack of in depth discussion into why social media has it’s members gripped in a constant battle for perfection.  It would give me a glimpse of reason and debate and then swiftly move onto the next interview. It feel more like a journal piece about a wider piece of research and it just feels like the author could’ve gone so much deeper than she has.

What I did love was the first hand conversation style of the book as it made the conversations feel more true to life rather than just summing up the interviews, which the author could’ve done but it’s so much better that she hasn’t.

I think if you have a passing interest in peoples behaviour and want to get straight into the nitty gritty of why we behave the way we do then I suggest this book isn’t for you.  However, if you are looking for a great lecture hall tool to illustrate your points then this would be perfect!



Disclosure: The Pursuit Of Bookiness received a copy of this book free of charge in return for an honest review.  All opinions are our own

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