Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Happiness: a history

by Darrin M. McMahon

A survey of the evolving definitions of "happiness" in Western thought — not, as you might expect, dealing with psychology, but rather in terms of mythology/religion, philosophy, sociology, a touch of linguistics, and even a bit of zoology (happiness being one of the things that distinguishes man from the other animals). Some examples: in ancient Greece, happiness was a matter of fate or luck; the spread of Judeo-Christian values gave rise to the notion that happiness could be achieved through virtuous living; in modern times people think happiness is mankind's natural state, that we are entitled to happiness, that we simply need to eliminate the physical and/or psychic barriers that are keeping us from being happy.

I found this book intensely interesting, but it was slow reading. I got about halfway through, took a break and read some fluffy teen fiction, then went back and finished. I'd only recommend this book to someone who's certain s/he wants to read philosophy and intellectual history; dabblers should look elsewhere.

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