BONUS POST: Review of Chris Guillebeau’s “The Happiness of Pursuit”

A Dangerous Book About Extraordinary Lives, Including Yours.

As a fellow writer on topics of personal development, I opened “The Happiness of Pursuit” with a healthy dose of skepticism. I was expecting a sort of “cure for the bored and privileged” story of hipsters and such.

Man, was I ever wrong. And very happily so.

Sure, there are people he profiles in the book who had the advantages of wealth or societal position. But there were many who didn’t. Some were solo quests, some were group endeavors. There were stories of tragedy and love and a lot of humor and most of all story after story of human kindness. This is a book that helps restore your faith in the human capacity for both incredible achievement and astonishing generosity.

At the same time it is more than simply a series of anecdotes (including many from Chris’ own quest to visit every country in the world). He examines the motivations behind quests, the processes by which people attempt, fail, or accomplish them. It’s a methodical, scientific approach, pulling out common factors and then presenting them in a way that the reader can use for themselves.

It is a dangerous book in that way. Early in the book he focused on the premise that everyone needs a quest, something to strive towards. My guard was up instantly, since I’m rather happy with my life the way it is: “The last thing I need is a quest! I have to make sure I do NOT let this book derail me into some fool odyssey that will disrupt my life!” Sure enough, about halfway through I’m thinking things like “Huh, maybe I should take up that 100 pushups challenge after all…” or “I’ve always wanted to visit Antarctica” (even though I haven’t). Chris’ engaging and persuasive writing style – talking enough about his own experience to establish credibility without crossing the line into braggodocio – nudges the reader closer and closer over that boundary between “Oh, I couldn’t…” and “Why not?”

Most impressive of all, though, is that unlike many other inspiring books, Chris doesn’t leave you hanging after the inspiration strikes. He spends a good portion of the book talking realistically about the troubles and barriers that occur during quests, including very specific criteria for identifying when it’s best to just quit. He also goes into what to do when you’re done – describing that strange feeling of emptiness that occurs when you’ve done the thing you wanted to do, and are wondering “what next?”

That is possibly the biggest thing that sets this book apart from others in the genre – he covers it all, not just the initial parts, and justifies his initial assertion that everyone does need to find their quest. I thought it was best summed up in one sentence: “Regret is what you should fear the most.”

It’s a quick and easy read, very entertaining, but I’d recommend taking it slowly and letting each chapter marinate in your thoughts for a while. This is a book, like most of his, that has the potential to change your life if you let it.

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