Staff Review: Happy for You by Claire Stanford

Evelyn Kominsky Kumamoto is the adult daughter of a distant Japanese father and a dead Jewish mother. When we meet her, she is preparing to start a new job at a large internet company, having set aside her philosophy dissertation in search of a change.
Book cover of Claire Stanford's "Happy for You"

Evelyn is somewhat anchorless — in identity, in work and in her relationships. But it is clear her ambivalence does not come from a lack of depth. Evelyn is a philosopher, who traces the movements of her own mind with the curiosity of a scientist. If she seems stuck between two points, it’s only because she is taking her time mapping the troubled landscape of the liminal space.

Reading Evelyn’s story feels like following loose, shimmering threads of thought. Questions give way to more questions, and there is a sense of unease that never lifts. Yet, it is an enjoyable task to nestle into the nuance of her inner life. While reading, I felt inspired to turn my own lens inward and take a deeper look; to collect the gems of my thoughts and hold them up to the light.

Evelyn moves through the world in a cautious and self-protective way. As excited as she is about her change in career, she remains wary of her enthusiastic boss and dedicated team members. She constantly doubts the very mission of the project she’s been hired for — developing an app that will help users measure and improve their happiness.

As she navigates the moral maze of her new job, Evelyn also manages doubts about her relationship. Jamie, Evelyn’s long-time love, treats her with care and patience, and brings a precious optimism and ease into her world. So why couldn’t she respond when he said, one day, “we should get married?” And why has she still not answered him, months later?

Why do any of us hesitate when presented with something that we think should make us happy? Why does being “happy” feel like such a mystery, and why does it seem to lose its meaning the more we fixate on it? And how can we possibly parse through what happiness means to us, in a capitalist, algorithmic society determined to show us what happiness looks like and what we need to buy to achieve it?

If these questions feel familiar, you might find meaning in “Happy for You.” Evelyn’s story doesn’t hold the answers, but it will help you feel a little more comfortable in the in-between.

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